You've likely met at least one parent who lives vicariously through their kids. Maybe you know a dad whose NFL dreams were crushed because of a knee injury. So now, he pushes his son to be the star quarterback.
Or maybe you know a mother who was rejected by the ivy leagues. And now, she's hiring expensive tutors to help her kids become straight-A students who will get into a prestigious school.
From sports dads to stage moms, many of today's parents are pushing their kids to succeed. And quite often, they're trying to get their kids to fulfill the dreams they weren't able to achieve.
They likely have good intentions. They might think they're giving their kids a competitive edge or they might insist they're giving their children opportunities they never had. But, they may be doing more harm than good.
The Upside of Living Vicariously Through Your Kids
Researchers from Utrecht University in the Netherlands examined what happens to parents who push their kids to live out the dreams they were never able to achieve.
The found that parents who experience unresolved disappointment from the past, feel pride and fulfillment when they can bask in their children's glory. Watching their child succeed actually helps heal their emotional wounds.
Many parents see their kids as extensions of themselves. And watching their child do something they couldn't do reduces their regrets about the past.
The Downside of Pushing Kids To Live Your Dreams
Even though pushing your child to live out the dreams you once held for yourself is helpful to you, it's bad for your child.
Living vicariously through kids robs them of mental strength in several ways:
- They struggle to form their own identities. Children need to feel free to develop their own talents, and opinions. If they're pushed into doing things their parents want them to do without opportunities to explore a variety of interests, they may struggle to figure out who they are and what type of life they want to create.
- They may be at a higher risk for mental health problems. Kids who are pushed to be perfect are at a higher risk of mental health problems, like anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. And they're usually good at masking their symptoms so their problems often go untreated.
- They may engage in self-defeating behavior. When parents have expectations that are too high, kids are more likely to sabotage themselves. Too much parental pressure has been linked to binge eating, procrastination, and interpersonal conflict.
- They are more likely to be chronically dissatisfied. Even if a child succeeds by most standards, growing up in a high-pressure home can cause him to feel like he can't meet other people's expectations. Consequently, he may become an adult who--despite his accomplishments--never feels satisfied.
How to Stop Living Through Your Kids
Reliving your old glory days through your kids is just one way to heal your emotional wounds. There are many other ways you can deal with your past regrets or disappointments without harming your kids.
The key to getting over your past is to build mental muscle. The stronger you grow, the better equipped you'll be to accept the past, enjoy the present, and build a healthy future without negatively affecting your kids.
And remember, mentally strong parents raise mentally strong kids. As you grow stronger, your kids will learn by your example.