The Problem with Raising Good Kids {A Give Away}

Apr 18, 2018 | Fledge, Parenting

I’m so excited to share a give away of author Melanie Mock’s new book, Worthy: Finding Yourself in a World Expecting Someone Else. Does it sound like something you’ve been searching for? I found myself all throughout her story as one who just never quite fit in.

I’m also excited that she’s written a parenting post related to Fledge. She wrote a review of Fledge, of which I’m so humbled, at Mennonite World Review.

The Problem with Raising Good Kids

On Christmas day, my family had dinner at a nearby retirement community for the first time. It has been a year of transition for us: my father-in-law died unexpectedly last winter, we moved my mother-in-law out of the home they’d shared for almost 50 years, and now on holidays, we planned to dine with her in a retirement home cafeteria, where desserts are plentiful and the table decorations festive.

My sons, both 15, adapted well to this changed landscape, pushing their grandma’s wheelchair down to dinner, smiling at the other residents and fielding all manner of questions about their lives. After dinner, the boys played board games with their grandma in the rec room, in between ping pong matches with me.

All day, I heard from folks that I was raising good kids. That my boys were obviously good teens. That I was doing a good job as a mother. And while I know these folks were only wanting to encourage our family, each compliment made me cringe, just a little. For one, the kind people were only seeing a snapshot of my parenting and of my kids, on a special day when my boys were in good moods. But also, I resisted these compliments because I believe telling parents they are raising “good kids” conveys all kinds of values about which children (and their parents) have worth and which do not, making unintended judgments about parents and their best efforts.

It might seem like I am being too nitpicking about what well-intentioned people said. I come by my fastidiousness about language honestly. As a college English professor, I spend my days (and sometimes, nights) studying the power of the written word to transform our lives completely, and recognize that the connotative value of language can sometimes convey unintended messages to others about their worth.

Calling someone a “good kid” is problematic for just these reasons: it infers judgment on kids and on their parents, and suggests that some kids–and some parents–are not “good,” an idea I reject simply because I believe what the Bible says: that we are all fearfully, wonderfully, uniquely made; that we all bear an imprint of our Creator; and thus that we are all inherently good, just as we are.

Don’t get me wrong: I think my kids are amazing. I love them deeply and they are the center of my world. They are kind and caring, smart, thoughtful, handsome. One is charismatic, drawing others to him because of his friendliness and his smile; the other is a deep thinker, asking compelling questions that have changed how I see and understand the world. Both are also fifteen, and make mistakes, sometimes in profoundly public ways. Those who might judge them–or me–based on these lapses in thinking would definitely not believe my sons were “good kids,” by whatever metric deems someone “good” or not.

In Brenda Yoder’s book, Fledge: Launching Your Kids without Losing Your Mind, she writes about the desire too many of us have to create images of picture-perfect families, with picture-perfect kids. Fostering such an image often means we feel compelled to hide the times our children struggle, embracing the false assumption that their behavior is reflection of our own fitness as parents. Brenda counsels that we need to redefine our expectations about parenting, knowing that our call as Christian parents is to orient our children toward God, helping them grow into adults equipped to handle what life hands them.

Being told I’m raising “good kids” feeds the mythology of the picture perfect family. It also conveys a sense that those whose kids are struggling have somehow failed as parents, even when the struggle might well be attributed to something else: early trauma, mental illness diagnoses, intellectual or physical challenges that make daily life more difficult. Because we’ve also decided that “good kids” are those who fit a specific mold–compliant, academically successful, uber-responsible–those who don’t fit that mold are also presumably not good, even if they have shining qualities in other areas.

Of course, some children make colossal errors in judgment. Some get in trouble with the law or with their teachers (something I did with astounding regularity as a teen!). Some use substances to blunt their pain, and destroy right relationships with family members and others. Some will make decisions that shatter other families, like shooting up a school or driving under the influence or making a million other decisions that can destroy others’ lives.

Yet even then, when children act out, they are still worthy of God’s unconditional love, no matter what they do. Using language that deems some kids good, and others not, undermines this affirmation: that we are, all of us, fearfully and wonderfully made, no matter who we are or what we do. Thus my two sons are not reflections of my “good” or “bad” parenting, but a reflection of their Creator, who formed them, and called that creation good. In that sense, we are all raising good kids, because they all bear the image of God.

Hopefully someday–and maybe someday soon–we will find the right language to acknowledge this inherent goodness, as well as the will to accept that we are all worthy, just as we are.

–Melanie Mock

Enter the Drawing!

To enter the drawing for Melanie’s book, Worthy, comment on one element of her article that resonated with you! The winner will be drawn on April 24 on my Facebook page. If you name isn’t drawn, purchase one here at Amazon!

More about Melanie:

Melanie Springer Mock is a professor of English at George Fox University. In 2009, she won the university’s Faculty Achievement Award for Undergraduate Teaching, and in 2015 she received the school’s Faculty Achievement Award for Undergraduate Research and Scholarship. She is the author or coauthor of four books, including, most recently, If Eve Only Knew (Chalice Press, 2015). Her essays and reviews have appeared in The NationChristian Feminism TodayThe Chronicle of Higher Education, and Mennonite World Review, among other places. She lives in Dundee, Oregon, with her husband, Ron, and their two sons, Benjamin and Samuel.



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  1. Chris

    Quick qualifier: I am not a parent, but I am a “good kid” and this is a sliver of my story I’d like to share because I believe it to be pertinent.

    I am an MK (missionary’s kid). My family moved back to the US from Malaysia when I was going into fifth grade and we went through a pretty rough transition (food stamps, few friends, public school, bad jobs), with which everyone coped differently, not always healthily. I coped by becoming “the nice guy” – the kind of person my friends’ parents would adore – though behind the façade I was a mess, compressing my emotions until I exploded (generally at my family). But my parents needed support as well, so eventually I brought the nice guy/good kid routine home that they might have one less child to worry about since my two brothers and I were a handful. Shocker. I never (or rarely) did stupid things, was compliant to a fault, achieved academically, etc. and I never really figured out who I was, which (long story short) leads to 23 y/o me with a BA in history and seeking direction. Not the worst outcome (yet), but I’m also very very deep in debt for the rest of my life with a degree that is not optimal for the places I’d like to see myself going.

    Needless to say, this article spoke to me – I don’t feel I have the right to judge my parents harshly for doing their best to guide me and my brothers through a rough situation, nor do I greatly appreciate being called “nice”/a good kid, because I have far more dimension than that. Just as all people do.

    • Brenda L. Yoder

      Thank you so much for your honesty Chris.

      • Melanie Springer Mock

        Such a good point, Chris: that “good kid” is a label that fails to recognize the amazing complexity we all have. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Rebecca

    So often, “good” means “compliant”–yet we shouldn’t be valuing compliancy for its own sake! Additionally, “good” is conditional; today, I might deem you “good,” but that means that tomorrow I might not. It’s better, I think, to teach children to evaluate themselves by standards that they internalize because they value them. We can do this by being some specific with our criteria: “I am so proud of you for displaying X when you did Y.” Like, “I am so proud of you for displaying sensitivity when you made sure you stationed yourself on Grandma’s left side, where her hearing is better, during your discussion with her” or “I am so proud of how thoughtful you were to bring Grandma’s favorite board game with us” or “I know that it made Grandma happy when you prepared her favorite song to play on the piano at the nursing home. That showed a lot of forethought on your part.” These are specific behaviors that they can repeat and make the connection between their choices and how others perceive them.

    • Brenda L. Yoder

      As a counselor, I love this! Thank you Rebecca!

  3. Johan

    My sister and I were raised in a violent and alcoholic home. Once on a ship crossing to or from Europe, the people at the next table commented on my sister’s and my good behavior. Little did the observers know that we were constantly walking on eggshells to avoid provoking rage.

    Another childhood memory: sitting in dentists’ waiting rooms looking at “Highlights for Children” magazine. I remember ads for Bible stories based on the premise that the Bible prevents juvenile delinquency. We tried to let our kids know that the Bible wasn’t compiled to promote placid conformity.

    • Brenda L. Yoder

      Thank you John for your honesty. I have worked as a counselor with children with similar stories. Thank you for shedding light on how childhood behavior and the motivations behind it is multilayered.

    • Melanie Springer Mock

      That’s a powerful example, Johan. We never know another person’s story, and what might appear on the surface to be compliance is really something else. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Leslie

    As a parent of kids that didn’t fit the “good kid” mold, I appreciate this perspective. Hearing others being complimented on their children -honestly, great kids- while I was struggling challenged my already shaky sense of my roll as a parent. I’ve since learned that my kids are GREAT kids, both uniquely interesting, beautiful, fiery, empathic, and boldly challenging the “good kid” ideal in all the best ways.

    • Brenda L. Yoder

      Amen! Amen and amen Leslie. I, too, can relate. We need to be more kind to one another as our kids struggle to find themselves in their journey.

  5. Angie Edwards

    One point that resonated with me is that I think we as a society need to refrain from labeling kids as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and instead complement them on specific characteristics. Perhaps commenting on the kindness, thoughtfulness, etc. of their actions.

    • Brenda L. Yoder

      Yes, so such a powerful concept Angela!

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