What dreams did you have as a child? 

Almost everyone had a big one like being an astronaut, professional athlete, actor or actress. 

Most people move on past these dreams when they get older.

Some don’t move on.  See Adult Space Camp, Fantasy Sport Camps and Community Theaters.

Some sort of move on.

This article is for those of us who have sort of moved on but still try to live those dreams out through our children. Some parents are aware of this desire, but many are not.

That lack of awareness can take many different forms, ranging from simply worrying about your child to coming across as a bully to just not letting go. Sometimes your child has to fail for his or her own good. Depending on where you fit in as a parent, living vicariously through your child can look like one of the following examples:

  1. You can’t sleep at night because your otherwise good-natured child had one bad day at the grocery store
  2. You’re the dad screaming at his 6 year-old from the sideline to “Hit him harder.”
  3. You’re the parents that call their daughter’s college professor asking for extra credit so she can pass when she didn’t go to class or do her homework or pass her tests all semester.

Is it normal to have these feelings of wanting your child to live vicariously through your children?A recent study says: Yes.

The study looked at the ability for parents to see themselves as separate from their children and the likelihood that parents would try to live out unfulfilled dreams through the children.  Not surprisingly, parents who saw their children as extension of themselves were much more likely to try and live vicariously through them but all parents did show some tendency to do so. 

Because it was a small study done in the Netherlands, it should be used with caution but it’s the first study of its kind to try and look at this commonly-held idea.

It seems that parents are pretty likely to have vicarious desires for their children…and if you absolutely think that is not true for you then you probably are the worst offender. What can we do to keep these desires healthy?

 1)    Be aware.  Being aware of these desires is important to keep them from becoming an overwhelming part of your child-rearing techniques.  If your desires for your child remain subconscious, you may not sense how much pressure you are placing on them.  However, your child will sense the pressure just the same.

 2)   Be involved (but not too involved).  It’s great to be involved in your child’s activities but you probably shouldn’t be coaching every single team they play on.  You probably shouldn’t always be the loudest parent in the stands (even if it’s always encouraging).  You probably shouldn’t review every single homework assignment for perfection until they graduate high school (plus, it won’t be long before they are past your knowledge in math anyway).

 3)  Be away.  Find something that you enjoy doing for yourself.  It’s not hard for your child’s schedule to take over and you find it squeezing out everything else.  I know, there are some of you out there thinking, “But, this is what I enjoy.” Going to practices, performances, games and everything else your child is involved in is important and can be very fun but think about the message that sends to your children. 

 I think it sends two harmful messages to your child:

  • First, the world revolves around my schedule.
  • Second, my parents care more about my activities than anything else.  Therefore, my success is important to keep everyone else happy.

So, live vicariously through your children, we’re all going to do it to some degree, but do it in a way that keeps you and your children from resenting the time spent on their activities when they are out of the house.

 Justin Smith, M.D., is a pediatrician at the Cook Children’s Neighborhood Clinic on 2755 Miller Ave.  He has a particular interest in development, behavior and care for children struggling with obesity. In his spare time, he enjoys playing with his three young children, exercising, reading and writing about parenting and pediatric health issues.

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