Teaching your kids to have goals, do their best, and leverage personal momentum to succeed are all good ideas. However, there is a difference between supporting a child’s efforts to reach their goals versus taking control of the results you deem the best possible outcomes for your kids.
If you habitually steamroll your kids, you rob them of personal experience on multiple levels. When you overstep, your kids can lose their point of view; their self-esteem may go down; they may feel confused, anxious, or depressed; and they may focus too much on pleasing you instead of honoring their own desires.
Don’t let your children miss out on opportunities to learn from their own life experiences. Healthy kids are not confused about who they are and what they want. In fact, a lack of assertiveness and self-expression in children may be a signal that you push too much and may need to back off and give your kids a chance to assert themselves. If you tend to push too much, what are you so afraid of? If you are afraid that your kids will set goals differently than you, don’t worry; this is the way it should be!
Insecurity and poor boundaries are two reasons you take over your children’s goals and make them their own. So, if you’re well-meaning but have some teeny-weeny control issues, what do you do? Plenty. You can foster healthier relationships with yourself, with your child, and with other family members, so each person in your family can focus on setting and achieving goals without interference. Then, when each of you inevitably succeeds, you will all have something to genuinely celebrate.
Here are five ways to detach from your kids’ goals:
1. Accept. Your kids are unfolding individuals-in-process and you are a unique person-in-process, as well. People are stories. We have beginnings, middles, and ends. As long as we are here, our story is still in progress. Sometimes progress is messy, and we are never done growing, until we are done living. If we can allow each other to be unique works in progress, we don’t have to put so much pressure on ourselves to achieve everything right this very minute.
2. Distinguish. You are not your child, and your child is not you. Maybe it’s time to ease up on comparing and contrasting family members. Who says parents and children have to be anything alike? Maybe every single person in your family is a unique individual and you all have varied perspectives on any topic. This is likely true. Forget pressing for family groupthink. You can’t make your kids into you, nor should you ask them to be you. All you can do is be yourself and let them be themselves.
3. Moderate. Be a ‘good enough’ parent, not a ‘perfect’ parent. If you have to be a perfect parent, then everyone in your family has to be perfect, too, and this is exhausting for everyone. If you put unrealistic pressures on yourself and your family members, stop. Try not to judge your family by appearance. External indicators are not the measure of internal happiness. You are imperfect, you make mistakes, you do the best you can, and this is all good enough. You can only feel like enough if you can let yourself and others embrace imperfection.
4. Strive. Have your own goals, not just goals for each of your children. Do you have a vocation or avocation beyond parenting? If not, you need to get one - or several. Parents who put all of their identity eggs in one parenting basket are destined for a big fall once children grow up and leave home. Because, yes, parenting is a full-time job; but it’s not supposed to be your only identity in life. If you cling to your parenting role too much, ask yourself what other life challenges you might be trying to avoid? Chances are good that you are anxious about stretching your own wings. Focusing on your own goals and taking pride in each baby step toward those goals will make you feel better than staying stuck.
5. Reach out. Get your own emotional needs met, rather than using your children for inner fulfillment. You may not realize you are doing this, but if you have unresolved childhood issues you have not yet faced, it is probably time to heal your past. The emotional work you are not willing to do can have long-term negative effects on your children. Don’t try to sort everything out without assistance. If you are aware of your family’s history of addiction, neglect, mental illness, divorce, narcissism, abuse, or control issues, then you are likely going to need professional input to sort it all out and get yourself on a healthy emotional track. For your family’s sake and yours, don’t put this off.
The ‘Don’t’ list for parents:
Author, journalist, and writing coach Christina is proud to say that her daughter is nothing like her and is under no pressure to become her anytime soon. Playing Christina is a role that has already cheerfully been taken.
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