Living Vicariously Through Your Child?

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It is safe to say that parents want the best for their children, as parents are generally well-intentioned in how they raise their families. However, it can be tempting for parents to unintentionally push them towards things they loved or into areas in which they experienced disappointment. There is a risk that parents steer their children towards their own unrealized potential or dreams.

In today’s uber intense world of raising kids, there is a trend of overly involved and invested parents, which is at the detriment of their children’s well-being. Parents can also be convinced that by doing so they are providing their kids with opportunities or a competitive advantage over their peers.  While some parents may find their own healing in doing so, there can be unintended consequences and collateral damage on their children.  This pressure puts kids in a difficult situation, as they typically do not want to disappoint or fall short of their parents’ expectations. It creates unnecessary stress and pressure for kids to exceed such high standards. It also prevents them from developing their independence and unique identity, which can lead to significant cognitive and emotional dissonance.

We caution parents to not view children as being extensions of themselves. It is important for kids to form their own interests, talents, opinions, and passions. In doing so, it will help them build resilience, confidence, independence, and emotional strength. Kids who experience too much parental pressure are more inclined to experienced mental health challenges over time. They can also experience feelings of discontent and confusion as they get older. Learning who they are and trying to be who they think their parents want them to be can create emotional turmoil for children. 

What to do?

It is natural that parents would want to share their interests and passions with their kids. If a parent loves baseball, he will likely enjoy bringing his kids to games. A parent who enjoys the outdoors will likely want to share these experiences with their family. Exposing children to such areas of interest is healthy, as long as they are also given the opportunity to explore and develop their own pursuits.

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Parents increase their own self-insight about internal motivations and desires.

Parents can increase their own self insight by recognizing their own desires and being intentional about exploring the true interests of their kids. It can also be beneficial for parents to gain a deeper understanding of their own childhood disappointments, failures, pain, or regrets. Parenting out of a place of negative emotion or fear is damaging. Parents have the responsibility to operate out of a foundation of love and support rather than hurt.

Parents process their own emotional baggage.

When it gets in the way is when parents are operating out of a need to work through their own disappointments and regrets from childhood. It can be helpful for parents to process and work through their own emotional baggage so they do not pass these narratives onto their kids or impose pressure for the children to follow in their footsteps.

Create opportunities for diverse interests and activities.

It is also important to create space and provide support for children to do some exploration. Try not to hone in on one area of interest too early for your children. Encourage them to engage in varied activities.

Find alternative ways to connect and spend time with your children.

Find multiple ways to connect with your kids, rather than around your own set of interests. Also, parents can create a platform for children to explore their interests by inquiring and having open discussions for them to share what is on their mind.

Foster a sense of curiosity by listening.

Foster a sense of curiosity by asking open ended questions. Engage in conversations that allow for varied discussion. Listen attentively to create a psychologically safe space. Avoid being directive about topics to reduce parent biases and input.

Allow for individuation.

For healthy development to occur, children need to experience individuation – a process of separation from their parents and establishment of their own unique identify. Provide developmentally appropriate leeway for children to begin making independent decisions. Allow them to take age relevant ownership and responsibility. By empowering children to develop themselves fully allows them to experience self-efficacy and increased confidence.

If you feel you are living vicariously through your child, it can be beneficial to talk with a parenting consultant or professional who can help you be the best parent you can.