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The Set-Up

By Jacki Christopher

The latest news scuttle is over the British mother who’s been giving her eight-year-old daughter Botox injections. The question that most of us are asking, after we’ve picked our jaws up off the floor is, why? Why does injecting chemicals into the face of her child seem to her not only sane, but beneficial?

The simple answer is: it’s a “set-up”—her best parental effort to set up her daughter’s life now to ensure fame and fortune later. Her words: “I know one day she will be a model, actress or singer, and having these treatments now will ensure she stays looking younger and baby-faced for longer.” If mom can put all the pieces together while she still runs the show (Botox injections, waxing, pageantry, etc.) then the machine she’s setting in motion is guaranteed to auto-pilot straight down the runway to worldly success. Her daughter will have had every opportunity to live happily ever after. She will have done her job.

Surely the Botox lady is a case of parent-living-vicariously-through-child syndrome ad absurdum. But before we put the foot in the stirrup to mount that moral high horse, we might look at our own “set-ups.” Meaning, what are you doing now to set your child up for (fill in the blank)–i.e. acceptance to a top preschool, athletic superstardom, Ivy League admission, MENSA membership, reign of the universe?

Every parent among us wants the best for their kids—even the lousiest parents. We want them to have better opportunities than we did. But what does “better opportunities” really mean? I was a fat kid and certainly never in a beauty contest—will my daughter’s life be “better” and more opportunity-rich if I can craft her into a pageant princess? How are we defining better? More money? More academic or athletic prowess? Higher paying (and probably higher stress) careers?

Our job isn’t to define “better” for you, only to challenge you to define it. If you’re up for some honest personal exposure, take a few minutes to run a mental inventory of the activities you’ve got junior set up in. Then ask “Why?” for every single one. What you find might surprise you.

And what if you should decide to call a halt to it all? Let the child choose their own friends, instruments, activities? Will you end up with low-life, do-nothing offspring you either have to bail out of jail or support in your basement when they’re forty?

The cultural machine that encourages these set ups is no small force to reckon with. You’ll no more than pull little Madison out of the dance classes she hates and Mrs. Brag-a-Lot from down the street will come waltzing her little tutu-clad Susie across your driveway, making you feel like a child abuser because you let Madison idly squander her time making those mud pies in the backyard. Surely, you think, I’m ruining her life—every child on the planet will pass her by!

We can’t tell you what’s right for your child or your family. Set-ups can be subtle.  We just encourage you to ask and answer that question for yourself. Is it your son who loves football, or is it dad who loves the idea of having a football champ son? Are the horseback riding lessons that eat up the entire family dinner hour the best choice for your family? And then stand firm against that temptation to compare. Trust that your kids are going to turn out to be fine human beings, even if you decide to forgo varsity sports.

We empathize—these aren’t easy questions to face. We’re still facing them. Husbands and wives and kids often don’t agree on the answer. But there’s one thing’s we can all agree on—it doesn’t involve Botox.

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