Parenting with Lorraine
Living Vicariously Through Your Children
DAY after day we wake up, go to the office and spend the day doing tasks that we really wouldn’t have chosen for ourselves. We can’t see ourselves changing our lives to make them more exciting in the workplace, though sometimes we try. We may even switch jobs, hoping to find something more satisfying. But that may not work either, and so we continue getting up morning after morning to face the day without any real expectations of satisfaction. We ask others for advice, trying to get ideas about how we can make our work more meaningful. But we never seem to find a satisfactory conclusion. This leaves us with a sinking, hopeless feeling when we think about the 30-plus years we have to work in a job that doesn’t fulfill us.
As we mature, we start to focus on our children and seize every opportunity to give them the skills they might not enjoy, but we do. This is why we will find our children playing a sport, learning music or pursuing another hobby without any genuine interest. We notice that some parents expect their children to excel academically, whereas other children who don’t have any noticeable academic gifts will be coerced into some sort of extracurricular activity.
Certainly, due to genetic disposition and parenting styles, some of us are drawn towards the same interests as our parents. However, a parent who feels dissatisfied with an area in their own life may be tempted to push their child towards pursuing some activity even if it does not particularly interest the child.
This scenario may take on different forms depending on both the parent’s insistence and the child’s particular skills. For one child, the parent may simply want them to excel in multiple areas of academia — and good grades then become the focus of everything. It doesn’t matter if the child is enjoying what they are learning. Rather, they are feeling pressured to learn what the parent wants them to learn in order to gain their positive reinforcement.
Let’s explore the feelings of a child who is put in that position. They are certainly getting the desired attention from their parents — something we generally define as positive. However, the pressure that goes with that attention destroys the positive aspects. The child loses their sense of self-worth and feels that they have to achieve in order to be loved and valued. That is a frightening situation for a child who depends on their parents’ love and support in such a crucial phase of their psychological development. The notion that inadequate performance on their part could cause them to lose the things they so desperately need could have irreversible consequences. Thus, we find children who sacrifice everything to conform to the image of what their parents want. This may deprive them of developing other interests and facets of their identity. The only plausibly positive aspect of this is that the child gains a feeling of satisfaction due to meeting their parents’ expectations. However, the negative consequences can vary, such as the child learning to meet the approval of others in order to a gain a feeling of value. Trust also becomes a problem, as they do not trust their own judgment but rather the opinions of others. When there is a situation when their own opinions are different from those of the person they depend upon, will they be able to step back and clearly determine their own beliefs?
Whenever we allow somebody else’s opinion to become more of a priority than our own, we are risking our own identity. If our own personal values become so weak that we bend to the opinions of others, how can we be expected to navigate through the personal challenges that will inevitably occur in our lives?
To counter this, we can begin teaching our children to start thinking for themselves from the very beginning. While the child may not necessarily like the consequences — more punishment, forcing their bad behavior to change — they will begin to understand more complex ideas, such as actions and consequences. Even such simple teaching moments can equip them for the different challenges they will face over their growth and development. We can also encourage our children to explore and pursue their own interests and be supportive of their efforts.
Although parents and children will benefit more from involvement in each other’s lives, there is an appropriate time and method to do this. To put it simply, let them be all they can be — not what you want them to be. tj
The complete article can be found in Issue #278 of the Tokyo Journal. Click here to order from Amazon.