There is something to be said for a kid who knows what they want and won’t let it go. We all remember Ralphie from the timeless Christmas classic, “A Christmas Story,” and his infamous Red Ryder BB gun. We saw the joy it brought him and we rallied behind his dream of owning that gun. But we also saw how the adults in his life labeled his obsession as immaturity and a “little” dream.
But it wasn’t little to him.
With the humblest of intentions, we dream of our children growing up and living a comfortable American Dream life, and we decorate their nurseries with Hobby Lobby art that read phrases like “Dream big, little one” and “If you can dream it, you can do it” and terms of endearment like “wild one.” It’s very natural and admirable when we have dreams for our kids—that’s how we coach them and teach them important and valuable lessons in life.
But we forget that one day they might deviate from our dream. With our parents’ hearts, we tell them things like, “You can be anything you dream,” “dream big,” “shoot for the stars,” and so on. But do we really mean what we say? Or, if Hobby Lobby created the art decor of our true hearts would it read something like, “Dream it, but run it by me first?” Or, “Be wild and free, but not too wild and free,” and, “Dream big, but not too big because that scares me … or embarrasses me.” You fill in the blank.
When raising kids, there is no magical formula. I believe all moms’ fears, opinions, hopes, and dreams—and even cautious tales, no matter how grandiose—come from a place of love. The best thing we can do for our kids, little or grown, is to love them no matter what. But, I think our children are growing up frustrated and confused because all their lives they’ve been encouraged that the sky’s the limit, and then we pull the rug out from under them and set safe, comfortable, and even boring boundaries when they try to pursue their dream.
They suddenly lose our approval if they dare be wild enough to cross the line. Their whole lives we’ve led them to believe that we truly just want them to be happy. That is our anthem. Why do we say one thing but really mean another?
How can we lovingly parent from a place of worry, embarrassment, and common sense and let our kids follow their dreams?
Ask questions. Ask a lot of questions. Making them think about their answers allows them to self-assess and sometimes they realize whether or not they truly love this dream and are passionate about it. When communicating, admit that you don’t understand why or even understand the dream itself. Let them teach you and educate you about their world. By doing this you learn why they are passionate about it and are empowering them to take some ownership in the process. The old saying “to know it is to love it” applies even to your child’s dreams.
Don’t make fun or ridicule.
We all know that a great way to entice kids is to give them a boundary because immediately they want to step foot on or over that line. If they know the line, they are wired to want to cross
it. There is a difference between expressing concern for safety or moral reasons and simply not approving of a dream because it’s not our cup of tea. Just because it wouldn’t be what we choose doesn’t mean that this dream isn’t perfect for them. We have to be careful not to communicate that our love and acceptance is conditional on them making the exact plans that we approve of. They need to know they have room to disappoint us and make us proud and we’ll be there with open arms each time.
Let them fail and figure it out.
It’s easy to hang up wall decor labeling our child as a “wild one” until they actually want to be wild. Wild usually means risk. Risks can get you hurt. Risks can also take you to the best parts of life. Some of my most memorable lessons in life are when my parents let me take risks and make mistakes. Mistakes hurt. Mistakes can have painful consequences. We as parents have walked the road and we know the twists, turns, and potholes ahead and we want to give them a road map to avoid all of those things.
Let them get stuck in some tough situations and then let them figure out how to get unstuck. You might just be surprised at their creativity, perseverance, and zeal. Aren’t those all qualities we dream for them to have too? But how can they shine in those ways if we lay it all out for them and they never have to think or push through or pray or sweat? What independence and confidence they will have if we are just there to support, pick up, and cheer on? Maybe we will find that they are perfect for this dream.
Stop saying “I just want you to be happy” and “I just want what’s best for you.”
Our kids can see right through this. We say it but still insist that they’re choosing wrong. We say it but still show disappointment. Do we ever stop to think, “What if this dream does make them happy? What if that person does make them happy? What if this job does make them happy?” What would happen if we stop saying “I just want you to be happy” and actually provide them with resources, classes, or support of some kind to do what they’re saying makes them happy? What if we just got happy that they’re trying or pursuing or learning?
Ask yourself some tough questions.
I believe all the confusing encouragement can be avoided if we ask ourselves the tough questions as to why we are not happy about their dreams. Parenting isn’t for the faint of heart and one of the downfalls of parenting is the comparison trap. We compare pregnancies and the sleeping habits of our newborns; we compare our children’s behavior and family dynamic, our parenting styles, and too many times we correlate our kids’ dreams with our effectiveness as a parent.
It’s like we think this “almost” grown adult is the crescendo of our parenting performance. If they turn out right then my performance was stellar, but if they turn out wrong or different from me then my performance was rotten tomatoes. I know this because I’m guilty of it. When our kids are growing up, we discipline and parent out of embarrassment many times. So again, it’s no surprise we’d do the same when it comes to the dreams of our kids. When feeling the sting of disappointment in our kids’ dreams we should stop and ask ourselves:
Do I want them to have a different dream because I’m embarrassed?
Am I not excited about this dream because it’s not what I would choose?
Am I worried about what others will think and how I will explain this to my friends?
Do I want this dream for them because I missed my chance when I was their age?
Dreaming of owning a Red Ryder BB gun is very different from a life-altering dream, but letting our children dream from an early age opens up a world of possibilities for them in the future. Unfortunately, today our world is full of people who once dreamt of taking risks and had a cheering section rallying behind them but somewhere along the way that dream was squashed or ignored or belittled. Now, they are going through the motions in their jobs, families, and lives. The excitement and joy of that dream was taken from them, so they played it safe. They went with the norm. They are now just managing their life.
Don’t we as parents want our kids to thrive and be the best versions of themselves they can be? Why would we want them to just blend in and manage? If they can find what they love in life, they’ll never work a day in their life.
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