Do we all live vicariously through our children or are we
simply trying our best to give them a better life?
Before I had kids, I would admittedly cattily mock the
football dad or the stage mom, or anyone who met some stereotype of a parent
‘living through’ their child. Now that I
have been with my daughters for 10 and 7 years, I have realized that perhaps
this easy stereotype is not so cut and dried.
You see, almost every parent has a preferred activity which
helped give meaning to their life or they lived out an existentially,
life-shaping series of events which they think important. For some parents, it is football. For others, it is music or academics or
swimming or computers or, in my case, benign neglect. It is like the movie The Breakfast Club.
As you will notice, a lot of the items on the living
vicariously list are competitive ‘sports’.
Why do I put sports in quotes? Because most people think of sports as
things associated with athletics, but in reality, music can be a sport and
academic grades are the biggest competitive sport of all. In fact with grades, every child is forced to
participate in that sport.
For me, living vicariously involves trying to give my
daughters tons of free time and space as I had when young. While this involves not wanting to label them
nor turn them into something nor making them my project, I would be lying if I
did not acknowledge that I am no different from the sports dad or the stage
mom: I am trying to give the girls
something that I found infinitely valuable to my life and my personal
development, and something which is in sync with my values.
Am I living vicariously through them? Well, I would have to admit I probably
am. My values require me to not define
them but to try to offer them help as they define themselves. This is still a construct through which I
impose my values on them.
What’s my point? Be
careful how fast you judge others.
Before I had kids or at least ones old enough to be involved in ‘stuff’,
it was easy to indict. Now, I may
disagree with another parents ferocity and I may think them wrong in their
approach, but I cannot dismiss them with a ‘living vicariously’ derogatory
comment. I have to acknowledge that we
all do it.
The benefit of this acknowledgment is that any discussion
can then start from an agreeable premise:
we all want what is best for our kids.
childhood fears in our children
I would like to address something which flys under the radar
of normal conversation in this regard.
For all the clichés attached to living vicariously through your kids,
there are many parents who say ‘I am going to be more supportive’ or
‘compassionate’ to my kids than my parents were. I will give them ‘opportunities’ I never had
or be more ‘fair’ amongst my children. I
will be better than my parents!
An oddity I have seen over and over can be summed up in a
short story I read recently about a father who felt his parents were neglectful
in regard to protecting him from a mean dog.
He always thought when he had kids, he would protect them unlike what
was done to him. He would provide for
his kids as he was NOT provided for.
That sounds like a pretty simple statement and a nice
sentiment. The problem is that in order
for him to allay his child’s fear (HIS actual fear from HIS childhood), he
first needed to create the fear in his child.
Apparently, he would take his daughter and put her in uncomfortable,
scary situations with a dog or animal (not dangerous, but scary to her), and
then take her away from the situation with great compassion.
Is he living vicariously through her? Absolutely, just not in the way normally
This story illustrates a fundamental problem of us fixing
our childhood problems in our kids. We
first have to create our problems in our kids.
When we do, rather than solving those problems and being compassionate,
we create and pass on our very real fears.
Summarized, this could be stated as: Parents want to offer what was not given to
them, but what they pass on is the fears they had.
As my daughters get older, I have seen myself wanting them
to see the values I hold dear and sometimes they do, sometimes they do
not. My feelings about these things can
be very, very strong, but do they really need to be? Should they be? Why does my knee want to jerk sometimes?
Am I trying to live vicariously through my children? Most likely, yes. All of us with our sports, stage, academics,
fishing, free time, fear resolutions, and on and on do it. We should try to remember to consider what
are OUR needs and what are our children’s needs.
They are individuals who have their own personal needs.