Parents may find themselves living through their children. There are pitfalls to this habit as well as real harm to the children, & there are alternatives.
Playing for Himself or for the Parent?
Dangers to Parents of Living Through Your Kids at Christmas or Any Time
When parents start living through their children they don’t usually realize the harm such practices brings to the kids. The authentic wants and needs of the child begin to take a backseat to the unfulfilled wants and needs of the parent. This can stunt the child’s ability to live his or her own life.
At Christmas, birthdays or other occasions, a parent may buy gifts they wish they had as a child. In sports or other activities, parents can find themselves pushing a child into something which came from the mind of the parent rather than seeking the child’s ideas.
Healthy development for a child includes learning to know one’s own hopes and dreams, and being able to distinguish that from the wishes of their parents. When adults live through their children, the lines become fuzzy and children may not really learn to identify their own goals from their parent’s. When a parent honors a child’s ideas and thinking, they are modeling respect, one of the yeast ingredients of a good life.
Living through your children can bring resentment later in life at feeling forced to satisfy the parent’s desires while repressing the hopes and dreams of the youth. Some have even gone to college before they matured enough to realize they majored in what their parents wanted, not what they wanted.
Harm to Children When Parents Live Through Them
Children whose parents have tried to live through them do not get much opportunity to find out what they want to do or be. This can bring about uncertainty and lack of confidence lasting even into adulthood. Such adults sometimes report trying hard to please without true satisfaction. They may have resentment for parents who basically prevented them from living their authentic life.
Of course, one of the most common examples is the stage mom who pushes a child into performing way beyond a child’s interests and authentic desired directions. However, there are many more subtle ways of inadvertently placing a child in a position of being obligated to please a parent to the point of complete repression of his or her own wishes.
These young people grow up with only their parent’s goals rather than learning to set their own goals in life. They do not get a chance to develop the concept of striving for something they dearly want. They only learn to do what someone else wants them to do, a habit which sets them up to be at risk for abuse and being used by others. No parent would consciously wish this off on their child. Parents would do well to examine their methods to be sure they are allowing their children to develop a sense of self so central to authentic living.
Alternatives to Living Through Your Children
Adults can ask themselves what they really want out of life. Sure, it may be unrealistic to do it all. But you can find one thing and do it to satisfy the need to fulfill your own dreams. It can be a hobby or a career. It may involve one evening a week to sing in a choir or act in theater, a sports group, or any activity which helps this parent feel fulfilled. This can help prevent the compulsion to pressure your child to do what you actually want to do for yourself.
Sometimes parents try to give their children experiences they wish they could have had as a child. This may be a situation where you have to practice the skill of blessing it and letting it go. Keep looking toward your child’s future, not your past. Accept the fact that your child can not change your own past.
A parent can make two lists, one of their own individual interests, and another separate one of the child’s special ideas and preferences. Sometimes a hard look at these will show areas of common interest as well as differences which need to be honored. The next step would be to make a concerted effort to encourage your child to follow his or her own goals, providing support on that path.
By meeting your own needs as an adult, you can reduce the need to live vicariously through your progeny. It will also give your offspring the freedom to live life as they see it rather than feeling unfair parental pressures. Children learn much from realizing that their parents can pursue their own hopes and dreams also. This lesson is just as important for the child as for the parent. It may be time to make an effort to avoid living through your children.
Copyright Hildra Tague. Obtain permission for use online or in print.
Picture (by Karpati Gabor) credit: http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/671425