3. Performance Parenting Leftovers
 

Parental expectations and emphases also configured our emotional and thought patterns, for better or for worse. In this chapter we will look at how performance parenting almost always leads to a powerful not good enough feeling.


Calls to Greatness, or A Performance-Based Identity? 
 

Get only A's and B's in school. Be the best in your sport. Be first chair in the band. Dress the best. Do the best. Be the best.
    On the surface and without context, these parental calls to greatness seem entirely legitimate. Shouldn't parents inspire their children to strive for the most excellent version of themselves? On the surface and without context, indeed these injunctions to good performance seem appropriate.
    When we add context, however, and analyze the actual hierarchy of values a parent is emanating, we may get a different narrative. Enter the concept of performance parenting, also called performance-based parenting or performance-oriented parenting. This type of parenting imparts a performance-based identity onto the child--one focused on appearances and achievements and external measurements--which inherently comes with a neverending not good enough feeling.


Performance Parenting & Hierarchy of Values
 

We could define performance parenting as parenting that centralizes high performance and external measurements. It is parenting that elevates performance to the top 2 or 3 in the hierarchy of values.

Hierarchy of Values
    A hierarchy of values means exactly how it sounds. Within the context of parenting it refers to the system of values being imparted to the children, and more importantly, in what order. For example, parents that let their children eat too much junk food show that physical health is not in their hierarchy of values. Or, parents that prioritize family prayer, Bible study, listening to the Holy Spirit, and other God-centered habits show that a relationship with Him is at the top of their hierarchy of values.
    Value hierarchies can look a million different ways, for better or for worse, based on the parent and their life priorities, especially their individual maturity level. A mature and well-balanced Christian parent would have a hierarchy that looks something like this:

 

(1) Relationship with God
(2) P
hysical Health
(3) E
motional-Mental Health
(4) I
ntellectual Development
(5) H
ealthy Relationship Skills
(6) R
esource Management
(7) P
erformance Excellency
 

    Notice the hierarchy follows a common sense progression. God Himself is always our highest priority, strongest passion, most diligent daily habit, our one and only First Love. Physical health is logically next; the brain and body cannot function properly, or even at all, if it is not well cared for in every sense--eating habits, sleep, physical activity, medical care, etc. Emotional-mental health is next, meaning the impartation and development of a healthy psychology through absolutes and skills like face-to-face quality time, affirmation, introspection, self-awareness, processing emotions, emotional openness and candidness, responding to stress, etc. Intellectual development is next, meaning formal education, especially reading, writing, and arithmetic, and widening from there to include other major subjects that contribute to a broad knowledge base.
    A brief interlude. Can you see why emotional-mental health precedes intellectual development? If a child's cornerstone emotional needs are neglected, rushed past, overlooked, minimized, or even abused, how will that affect their intellectual development? How will that affect their ability to focus at school? How will that affect their classroom behavior and learning? And even if they learn well, how will they use or misuse all that knowledge?
    Back to the values list. After intellectual development would come healthy relationship skills, after which would come resource management (caring for personal possessions, money, etc.), after which would finally come performance excellency. Do not misunderstand performance excellency at #7 as being unimportant. No doubt great performance is important, but it should be the crowning value atop a healthy and well-balanced personhood, not a polished and high-achieving outer shell covering an unhealthy, unformed inside.


I was performance parented. Now what?
 

We can see, then, a parent's messaging on performance can be healthy and legitimate if it is rightly placed in the hierarchy of values, after the five or six most important values. Performance messaging becomes unhealthy and dangerous if it is the clear #1 or the de facto #1, or even in the top 3. When performance is out of place and out of balance, an endless not good enough feeling will nag and nag and nag and nag. No achievement, no award, no moment of attention, no word of affirmation, no external measurement will ever be enough. If this happened to you...now what?
 

Back to the Basics, Foundations
    A person with a performance-based identity is, essentially, foundationless as a person. They are driven, to varying degrees, by that inner hollowness that keeps them constantly needing another experience that says, You are good enough. We transform this, therefore, by going back to the basics and laying a personal foundation the way the Lord originally intended. If we look once again at a healthy and godly hierarchy of values, we can see precisely what foundation layers we need to develop. No need to get overwhelmed if there are multiple layers needing development, just start at #1 and build as God leads you and works in your life. He may go in a linear sequence or He may jump around or He may do a blend of both. Simply listen and cooperate, listen and do your part.

 

(1) Relationship with God
(2) P
hysical Health
(3) E
motional-Mental Health
(4) I
ntellectual Development
(5) H
ealthy Relationship Skills
(6) R
esource Management
(7) P
erformance Excellency
 

Dig Into Strategic Relationships
    Strategic relationships, in this particular context, means relationships that help you grow out of a performance orientation and help you develop the foundation layers you are needing. This is the crucial application piece that will greatly slow down or greatly speed up your transformation. If you are trying to develop a foundation of intimacy with God, yet you spend excessive time with those who do not walk intentionally with God, your progress will be slowed or even stopped. If you trying to develop a foundation layer of emotional-mental health, yet you spend excessive time with those who reinforce a performance orientation and do not value your feelings, thoughts, and needs, how will that sabotage your progress? If you are trying to develop healthy relationships skills, yet you are too deeply entrenched with those who reinforce and trigger your relational dysfunctions, how will that sabotage your progress?
    On the other hand, how these transformation projects speed up and bear quicker fruit if you dig into strategic relationships that reinforce these transformations! Who can you get closer to that will accelerate your intimacy with God? Who can you dig into that has greater psychological health than you, that can serve as a tangible model and inspiration? God's Word has many, many commands about digging into relationships that help us, not hurt us or slow us down. Read these thoughtfully and prayerfully: Psalm 101, 120:5-7, Proverbs 13:20, Matthew 15:14, Romans 16:17,18, 2Thessalonians 3:14, Revelation 2:2.

 

Relationship with Performance Parents in the Present
    A question I often get regarding this subject, explicitly or implicitly, is how to relate with performance parents in the present tense. The answer to this is situational and variable. You will need to pray through and think through, and possibly get good ideas from wise Christians, on how to navigate your specific situation. Many individuals have to pull away, partially or totally, for a time to heal and change. Sometimes an honest conversation with loving confrontation is necessary. This is especially true if your parents are still performance-focused. It is likely no one has ever confronted your parents on such a thing as "performance orientation", which makes the necessity of honest conversation even more important. You speaking the truth to them respectfully will give them an opportunity to repent and grow (even if they refuse), while simultaneously healing your sense of personal dignity, power, inner health, and relationship skills.
    Whatever the unique variables in your present tense dynamic with your parents, seek the Lord and good counsel on how to strategically relate with them. Do not automatically write off any action, do not assume anything. Let the Holy Spirit and the deliberation process illuminate the most strategic course of action with them.