The Death of a Parent's Dream
It seems like yesterday when you held your child for the first time and stared in to their eyes with wonderment, awe, and intense love. It was a magical, miraculous moment when all things seemed possible and they could become anything they wanted to be. You poured optimism into them daily and began dreaming of the adult they would one day become and all the accomplishments they would achieve.
But something happened. Perhaps it was a medical condition that would forever alter the possibilities of becoming an Olympic athlete. Or perhaps it was a behavioral issue that would preclude them from attending certain schools. Or perhaps it was a developmental disorder that would significantly change their interaction with others. Or maybe it was simply fear, anxiety, obsession, depression or an addiction that would leave a lasting imprint, forever revising your dreams.
Whatever the cause, the dreams you first dreamed about your child are now dead and the harsh reality of who they are is incongruent with who they could have become. So how do you deal with the unmet expectations and dreams of what your child could have become?
Don’t deny. While there are Olympic athletes that have overcome seemingly difficult circumstances such as asthma (Jackie Joyner-Kersee) and ADHD (Michael Phelps), not all kids with asthma can be runners nor will all ADHD kids enjoy swimming. Furthermore, while there are good suggestions for managing asthma or ADHD, the suggestions might not be right for your child. Don’t waste valuable time and energy denying an issue exists - acknowledge it and accept reasonable limitations that coincide with the issue.
Don’t get angry. A common parental reaction when a child does not live up to their potential or the dreams of their potential is to get angry. Sometimes the anger is internalized and other times it is projected onto the child. This type of anger is unproductive and will only alienate a parent in their relationship with the child. Instead accept responsibility for creating an image (however wonderful that image might be) that is inconsistent with the person your child is becoming. In the end, this is their life to live, not your life to live through them.
Don’t get discouraged. When things get tough, it is far easier to throw in the towel and call it quits with no expectations about anything for your child. This is an equally destructive attitude as too many expectations or too unrealistic expectations. When your child has greatly disappointed you, don’t allow discouragement to settle in and abandon all hopes and dreams, rather take a realistic assessment of your child’s strengths and modify your dreams accordingly.
Accept. Allowing a dream about your child - even a good, well-intentioned dream - to die is hard but it is essential in order to have a functional relationship going forward. Accepting their natural limitations is not giving in but rather healing in that it allows you to have a more realistic dream going forward. Many dreams about your child will come and go over the years but don’t allow the lost dreams to distort your perception. Rather, allow the lost dreams to morph into realistic ones that are consistent with the hopes and dreams your child has.