The Bitter Cost of Living Vicariously Through Your Children
From the Christan Parenting Corner
by Sylvia Cochran
Are you a stage mom? Are you the dad, who gives the Little League coach a hard time? Do you bark orders at your child and expect them to be followed to the letter?
If this describes you even remotely, there is a good chance that you are living vicariously through your children.
Don’t fool yourself: there is a bitter cost attached to this kind of parenting style.
Living Vicariously Through Your Children Frustrates Them
As children mature, they thrive on the separateness between the parent and them. While they still require full-time parental guidance, they also need a somewhat hands-off approach in many areas of life. In others, they require gentle nudging. A parent, who lives vicariously through a child, will steamroll over a child’s wishes, likes and dislikes with the explanation that s/he knows best what will do junior a world of good.
This may be the stage mom, who requires a daughter to prance on stage in a toddler beauty contest, even though the child is utterly miserable. It may be the sports dad, who yells at his child or the coach from the sidelines during pee wee soccer, even though the child would much rather participate in a gymnastics class.
Much harder to notice, it is also the parent, who runs the home like a boot camp barrack where even the hint of dissent or disagreement is severely punished. Children left in the wake of this kind of parenting are quickly frustrated. As they are brought in line with the parent’s thinking with the help of heavy-handed discipline, they eventually get the message that they are not able to make any self-determining decisions. Over time, these children exchange the constant frustration by simply giving up and letting the parent make all the decisions.
Characteristics of a Frustrated Child
It is interesting to note that a frustrated child will initially respond with depression, but over time this depression will turn into anger. As the child embraces feelings of negative self-worth, s/he will become bitter and ashamed. At the same time, s/he will try to at least experience some of that separation from the parent that is an essential building block in healthy parent-child relationships. This gives way to destructive rebellion, which might express itself in unhealthy means, such as property damage and drug use.
Why Parents Live Vicariously Through Their Children
Some parents may suffer from low self-esteem and vow to not let their children make the same mistakes they made as a youngster. While this sounds like a noble undertaking, it also negates the child’s developing ability to think for themselves and points to an unhealthy need for parental control. In some cases, the parent is simply unaware of her or his own needs, and seeks to make up for a perceived but undefined lack simply by controlling every aspect of the relationships around; this, of course, leads to the eventual dismantling of a relationship’s healthy foundation.
Turning it Around with James 1:19
There is hope! The next time when your child expresses frustration, stop and sit down. Encourage your child to share with you what frustrates them. Do not comment, but be quick to listen and slow to speak. Mull over your child’s responses.
Do not respond with anger when your child does not enjoy the things you think s/he should. If your toddler does not enjoy participating in the beauty pageants in which you enroll her, why not let her try a Gymboree class or tot lot session, and see how she does? You may be surprised to learn that your child will become poised through her surroundings, not by participating in pageantry. Conversely, if your child does not enjoy soccer, let her or him try another sport.
Examine your motives. Are you objecting to your son’s quitting Little League because it is the quintessential American pastime that every youngster should enjoy or is it because you want to ensure he has a sport he practices? If it is the former, you truly need to let go of your exasperating parenting style, while the latter is easily served by allowing the child to pick a different sport.
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