“Life is a race. If you don’t run fast enough, someone will overtake you and move faster,” warned Dr Virus from the famous movie 3 Idiots.

The record-breaking 2009 Bollywood movie touched a raw nerve in our culture. Tragically, Indian parents believe in salvation by education. We often feel academic success is the “only way” to win the race of life.

More than 51 percent of respondents from India said career success was more important than the happiness of their child, as reported in The Wall Street Journal.

In most Indian families, children face an unhealthy pressure to succeed. It is common for parents to force their children to pursue subjects in school and streams in college with the sole aim of being “successful” in life.

Pressure in itself is not the problem. But the unhealthy pressure to succeed can have lasting consequences.

My wife wanted to take up literature in college. But she decided to pursue computer science under pressure from others. Until today, she rues this decision.

Christian parents need to look beyond our shame-based, honour-seeking culture’s paradigm of success. God wants us to help our children discover God’s plan for their lives. We need to look past our preferences and pre-meditated desires for them.

We need to free them from the unhealthy pressure to succeed and lead them into the delight of loving God as students. How do we do that?

Resisting a False Hierarchy of Vocation

A false dichotomy between the sacred and the secular controls the way Indian parents think. As a result, there is a false hierarchy of vocations. Consequently, some careers are valued more than others.

Additionally, the value of a vocation is often based on how people, society, and culture perceive them. Engineering is valued more than literature. Medicine is prized above history.

A false hierarchy of vocation can lead parents to be manipulative and coercive, until they exasperate their children.

Parents prioritise opportunities that will attract better placements. They want to put their children on the track to a better job that pays a higher salary. Sometimes parents value a career simply because it will make them feel proud of their children.

This false hierarchy of vocation permeates our culture and even the church. Some parts of India, especially the Southern states, clearly value the “STEM” subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) over others.

In some of the states of North-East India, people usually value the civil and administrative services more than anything else. Some cultures in India value business and finance while others value social and political sciences.

A false hierarchy of vocation can lead parents to be manipulative and coercive until they exasperate their children. They can replay and reinforce this hierarchy in daily conversations. Parents may justify it as a “concern” for the future success of their children.

This way of thinking violates God’s creation design.

Embracing The Dignity of All Labour

In Eden, God gave dignity and value to all work and celebrated all work as equally worthy and valuable.

Our country needs to see the beauty of all work and parents need to embrace the dignity of all labour. It can protect us from trying to control the desires of our children and limiting their choices.

The gospel can help us overcome false hierarchies. It can redeem our desires for the future of our children.

The longings we have for our children can become more driven by God’s revealed purposes in his Word. They can become shaped by his will and more honouring to him.

Turning Away from Idolatry and Inherent Bias

As parents, we need to recognise and repent of our blindness and inherent biases. Then we can repent of making an idol out of success.

We must acknowledge before God those times we subtly manipulated our children to get what we want; or when we used fear or shame to make our children submit to our desires.

The gospel can help us overcome false hierarchies. It can redeem our desires for the future of our children.

As Indian parents, society constantly judges us on the basis of our child’s educational and professional trajectory. We need to see how this pressure affects us and how unloving we can be to our children.

Our children feel the weight of society’s expectations when we live out of the fear of what others will think.

We need to repent of idolising our children; of making their success seem sacred and ultimate. Sometimes we want them to succeed even at the cost of their mental and emotional well-being.

How have you put undue pressure on your children? What does it look like for you to respond to Christ’s invitation to repent of your idolatry and attitudes towards success?

What would it look like for you to rest your desires for your children in Jesus, the Lord of your children?

Turning to Curiosity and Learning

As parents, it is crucial to spend time with your children to discover their passions. What motivates them? What do they delight to do? How can we help them discover their God-given desires?

Let us learn how their God-made personalities work and how are they uniquely gifted. We must be curious about our children.

What are their fears and anxieties? How can we pay special attention to their mental wellbeing? Let us ask questions without being judgmental and assume the posture of a learner.

In your curiosity, communicate your love to your child. You will be surprised how it becomes easier to come to decisions when you know and understand your children.

Affirming and Teaching the Gospel

As India progresses rapidly, our desires for the success of our children will be tested more fiercely.

We will always be under pressure to do more, spend more, get more, and invest more in the latest educational trend, or sign up for the most expensive learning apps.

Our children face enormous pressure within the family and in society at large. This present culture constantly judges them. It frequently commands them to follow a set pattern and puts enormous pressure on them to conform to the world.

As India progresses rapidly, our desires for the success of our children will be tested more fiercely.

Would you as a parent assure them their future is secure in the hands of their loving heavenly Father? Will you remind them of the gospel of grace, that they do not have to pretend or perform to earn your love, or the love of God?

The ultimate success and well-being of our children comes from knowing and delighting in the gospel. Could you turn them away from putting confidence in their achievements and results? Will you point them to Christ who gives them their worth and identity?

How can the beauty of the gospel—not your fears—shape the choices of your children? Can you pray for them to learn to trust God’s word and walk in wisdom?

As parents, let the gospel of Jesus Christ be our anchor and may it guide our hearts to nurture and raise our children for the glory of God, not the fading glory of the world.