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 and taking control of the results you deem the best possible outcomes. Parents who habitually steamroll their kids rob them of personal experience on multiple levels. When parents over-step, 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 their parents 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 to parents that they push too much and may need to back off and give their kids a chance to assert themselves. If you tend to push too much, what are you so afraid of? If you are afraid 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 parents take over their children’s goals and make them their own. So, what’s a well-meaning parent with some teeny-weeny control issues to do? Plenty. You can foster a healthier relationship with yourself, with your children, and with other family members so each person in your family can focus on setting and achieving their own goals without interference. Then, when each family member inevitably succeeds, you will all have something to genuinely celebrate.
Here are 10 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 all have a beginning, a middle, and an end. 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 quite 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, so 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, anyway. Truth: 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 mothering and fathering? If not, you really need to get one (or several). Parents who put all of their identity eggs into one parenting basket are destined for a big fall once their 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 you are anxious about stretching your own wings. Focusing on your own goals and taking pride in each baby step 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, so don’t try to sort everything out without assistance. If you are aware of a family 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, don’t put this off.
6. Let go. As the wife of a high school theatre director, I have witnessed parents of aspiring thespians bartering for their children’s advancement on more occasions than I care to remember. After moving into the district, it took my husband and me a couple of years to realize that many of our overly enthusiastic new friends were actually looking to secure a future leading role in a play for their child. Why do parents do this? Apparently, they believe that trading favors is better than letting their kids compete with their peers on an even playing field. But how long are parents going to be able to smooth the way for a child’s successes? And if you asked the child, wouldn’t they say they would rather earn the role rather than having a parent nab it for them?
7. Allow. Acknowledge your fears and insecurities in life and express them in front of your kids - occasionally. You may think your children can’t handle seeing you struggle but by hiding your negative emotions, you won’t provide healthy examples of how to process feelings with trusted others. Life is full of highs and lows. Trying to keep the emotional tone unnaturally high at all times is more detrimental than helpful. Kids need to see parents as regular old human beings who both thrive and falter. So, set the example of how to experience a full range of emotions in your home, and your children will learn how to move through their negative emotions instead of getting bogged down every time they experience a setback in life.
8. Join in. Help your kids create momentum in arenas they love while still acknowledging the rest of the team. If your child always has to be the star for your sake, they will have trouble fitting in with the rest of the kids. If you can’t settle for anything but the best for your child, check your attitude for entitlement. Believing your child is superior to others is detrimental to their social development, so take your child down off the pedestal and get to work figuring out why you need to put your child there in the first place. Chances are good it has more to do with your low self-esteem than what your child wants and needs. If you can join groups without having to be the best or be the leader, your child can learn to appreciate the value in connecting for its own sake, too.
9. Aim high. Toddlers don’t typically walk across the room on their first attempt, and you won’t hit every goal on the first try either. But if you don’t set goals beyond your ken, then how are your kids going to learn how to do the same for themselves? Of course, this means sometimes you won’t succeed, and your children will witness your inevitable failures. But, if you come up with ways to bounce back from life’s disappointments, your children will learn to do the same. And that’s great because then you are teaching them that aiming high is a challenging learning experience, not just an opportunity for guaranteed applause.
10. Relax. Make sure family members value downtime. Home is supposed to be a sanctuary for the whole family, not a place where kids come to get probed, lectured, and controlled. If your home is not a place where each family member can retreat and find some peace and quiet, why isn’t it? Maybe you are spending too much time alone worrying about how each child can get ahead rather than getting out and contributing to the community. Don’t be a pushy parent. You may feel like you are making strides for your children in the short run, but you are robbing each of them of developing an organic identity at their own pace. Value each child without pressuring. Create a restful home, full of divergent opinions, healthy debates, and spontaneous self-expression. Only then can your children evolve into the people they are each meant to become.
Author, journalist, and writing coach Christina is proud to say her daughter is nothing like her and is under no pressure to become her any time soon. Playing Christina Katz is a role that has already cheerfully been taken.
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