We all want what is best for our children. But why are we so sure that as parents we know what that is and that our children don’t? What if your child will find great joy in a modest-paying job in a field that they love versus a high-pressure but high-paying position in a field that they can’t stand? What if your child hates athletics but loves chess or even video games as a way to relax and take some time for themselves?
What if your child is an introvert and you were hoping for a fabulously social extrovert? Should you try to make them into the outgoing person you want them to be, or should you accept them as they are and guide them through the often challenging aspects of life as an introvert in a very extroverted world? What if your son wants to be a ballet dancer and your daughter wants to play rugby? Can you accept them and their interests even though they are different from yours?
If your answer is, “No, absolutely not," I challenge you to reconsider. When we put our own expectations on children and they don’t meet those expectations, they feel like failures. They can see our disappointment and they either feel disappointment in themselves, or they lash out at us for our lack of acceptance. Neither leads to happy, healthy families or well-adjusted, successful children.
When I was a psychology intern at an inpatient mental health unit for adolescents, the children often confessed that their greatest pain was seeing the disappointment in their parents’ eyes. The disappointment wasn’t from them doing terrible things but rather from not being who their parents wanted them to be: the theater-loving young man whose father wanted him to be an athlete or the Ivy League parent whose child was content as a C-student. The pain that these children felt was tremendous. Their parents meant well, but they were hurting their children terribly.