Dream Another Dream, This Dream is Over: Parents Wake Up!
Laura Hull, LMFT
I borrowed part of the title of this blog from a song made popular by a famous group in the early 1990’s. It was a contagious little ditty, if not blunt and to the point. Songwriters throughout modern history have made a lot of money writing songs about broken hearts and broken dreams. Alas, broken dreams are a common experience; perhaps even a common thread in the human experience that binds us together like a stadium wave, with lit smartphone flame in hand. At one point or another, we all have ideas that are born in the form of a dream. We invest ourselves, if not physically (or financially) at the very least emotionally, in the making of those dreams coming true. I am a big believer in dreaming big. I am also a big believer in having a “dream big, plan B” and a “dream big, plan C”. I will explain why later.
Before I dive into the meat of this article, I want to make an upfront disclaimer. While the purpose of this article is to take a rather light-hearted yet informative look at the concept of broken dreams and the perception of failure from the parenting perspective, please do not misunderstand my intentions. With great empathy, I acknowledge that the loss of a dream and the reality of “failure” can have devastating consequences on people’s lives. Parents who have lived with the reality of a miscarriage or the death of a child are forever altered by the reality of a broken dream; dreams that will never be realized and for which there isn’t a plan B. Families who pour everything into the dream of being entrepreneurs, only to lose every material thing they have…there may be a plan down the road, but it may be slow to materialize. Those people do not desire to hear a light hearted “chin up” pep talk from a therapist who wants them to focus on the sunny side of life. Consider the teenage girl with a beautiful singing voice who dreams of making it big in the music industry but the reality of a teen pregnancy makes those dreams unrealistic. Lost dreams can have harsh consequences. For now, I will leave those articles addressing this side of broken dreams to my colleagues, though I reserve the right to re-address those types of challenges to dreams at a later time.
I think we are conditioned from a very early age to believe that if we can dream it, we can be it. We tell our children that they can “be anything they want to be”. As good parents, we want to encourage our children to dream big, to not “settle” for “lesser” things in life. Parents beam when their kids say things such as “I want to be a doctor when I grow up” or “I want to be President one day”. In an effort to keep our kids motivated, sometimes we feed our children’s dreams, never wanting to introduce or entertain the notion that at times, specific dreams, no matter how hard we try, do not come true, cannot come true. After all, there have only been 44 presidents in the history of our country. Millions of kids have uttered the words “I want to be President someday”. It didn’t happen to any of them, save the 44. What happens to the kid who spends his whole secondary education and undergraduate experience planning to be a doctor, only to discover that he/she cannot enter medical school due to a MCAT score that is not competitive enough, despite numerous attempts at retakes? How about the father that dreamed of his son playing college football because his own collegiate dreams never came true? This actually happened to someone I knew. This well-meaning father planted this dream of collegiate football in his elementary school age son and drove him hard throughout his childhood to dedicate his life to playing college football. This son gave up play dates as a young child to attend practices most days and to play football on the weekends. He gave up parties, dates and proms in high school. And guess what? The boy had the heart but did not have the tools. His stature and speed could not compete for Division 1 scholarships. This family traded much for a dream that never materialized. Relationships suffered for that dream.
As responsible parents, as responsible people, we must accept that failure is a part of life. We do not achieve everything we set out to do all the time. We just don’t. Our kids don’t. No one does, despite the perception that some people get everything they want, and everything they touch turns to gold. How we handle failure can, in many ways, help define who we are and who we will be down the road. Failure never feels good, I won’t try to sugar coat it. But we can grow from failure and this is a concept that we MUST teach our children. We must lead our children by our example. While we should never tell our children that they are not capable of achieving their dreams, we must frame those dreams in a way that is encouraging but at the same time gives a bit of a reality check. For example, for the son who desires to play in the NBA someday, but whose doctor predicts an adult height of 5’ 8”: “Son, I think it is fantastic that you want to be a part of something that requires such hard work and dedication, you are clearly very motivated. I hope you get that opportunity someday. Everyone needs a back up plan. Life doesn’t give the same opportunities to everyone. What are some other things you are interested in, as well?” Start that conversation. Keep having that conversation at various points in the child’s development. Help him see the value in dreaming and developing a “plan B” and “plan C”. It is not dream-killing to give our children options to think about. It can help them greatly down the road.
To the group of parents reading this newsletter (of which I am one), a word of caution: do not imprint your dreams on your children. It is ok to introduce them to things that interest you or are important to you. But do not impose your dreams on them. They need the room to dream their own dreams without the fear of disappointing you if their dreams are not the same as yours.
We can comfort our children when their dreams are broken or they feel like they have failed. It is our job to re-direct them, encourage them, and require them to dream another dream.
It’s in our job requirements.