Knowing When To Support Or Kill A Child’s Dream

Some things in life should come with instruction manuals — like kids. This essay is about knowing when to help your kid find a new dream.

Knowing When To Support Or Kill A Child’s Dream
Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash

We all love to believe in people, especially our children. No one wants to be the dream killer or the dream destroyer, especially not parents. And while believing in dreams is a wonderful way to build a child’s self-esteem and character, it’s also the second best way to set a kid up for failure. The first way in my opinion is failing to teach a child manners and respect (no one wants your sweet young adult terror — trust). Today, so many adults are out in the world floundering because their parents encouraged their kid to pursue their dreams knowing full well little Johnny or Mary didn’t have the intellect, stamina or work ethic to pursue any of what they said with their young, naive mouths.

Now, little Johnny’s or Mary’s dream has slowly become one big shitty nightmare for you the parents. One you’ll spend the rest of your life trying to redo.

Living Through Your Kids

Some people use their kids to re-do their lives because they don’t feel they were as successful as they could have been. Parents and caregivers plant seeds of success in little Mary or Johnny, suggest high paying, far-reaching potential career choices, select communities and schools to ensure their kid has all the tools and resources needed to be the best (fill in the blank) ever, and do all the ego massaging they deem necessary to ensure the kid becomes whatever you want them to become. The “dream occupation” is really not what the kid wants to be. The child fears letting you the parent down — so they begrudgingly become the thing you desired them to be.

Parents who fail to listen to their kids’ dreams or fail to pay close attention to see what their kids are actually good at overtime causes the child great harm. Your dreams aren’t always your kids’ dreams. Remember, you’ve lived your life already. Whatever you didn’t do — well that’s too bad. Don’t punish your kid by placing dreams in them that aren’t their own.

Are you cultivating an environment where your kid is able to tell you confidently or truthfully what they want to be, or are they telling you what you want to hear to make you happy?

Your Kid Doesn’t Really Want That Dream, Do They?

The teen years are really important. Cultivating and guiding during this tumultuous time can be difficult. Parents sometimes aren’t certain whether or not they should kill their child’s dream or continue the fantasy because they don’t want to be seen as a dream killer. For instance, a parent or teacher may know little Johnny or Mary is terrible at that thing they say they want to be when they grow up. A kid is terrible playing their instrument. They barely practice and are literally tone deaf — their goal is to get into some ivy league school performing arts program. You know as the parent, teacher or caretaker, it’s not going to happen, but you don’t want to kill the kids’ dream.

Parents will waste their time with their kid chasing an unattainable dream rather than telling their kid the truth so they can find something they really are good to achieve a realistic dream that is attainable.

Or what about the kid that says they want to go to Brown University, the Ivy League University — but they barely study, won’t study the SAT prep, only focus on the fun electives in high school, doesn’t do any of the “exceptional” stuff that makes you stand out, isn’t the top of his/her class, and has done absolutely nothing to get into an Ivy League school.

The child comes home and takes naps instead of studying and taking rigorous coursework like their classmates. The kid is lazy and doesn’t listen to the advice and guidance you give on how to achieve their dream. You know this kid is a great student and has all the potential in the world, but you can’t do the work to get them where they say they want to be (well you parents can, but when they get there the college will know you did it because they’ll be floundering — happens all the time). Peer pressure drives the kid, not their own dream.

Do you kill the kids’ dream, or allow the kid to fail and pull out your plan B, C, D, or E (yes, I firmly believe parents should always have backup plans for stubborn, fantasy-driven kids)?

You have a few choices. You can allow your kid to live in a fantasy world understanding he/she doesn’t have what it takes to get to the place they say they want to be with their mouths.

You could explain to the stubborn chap what he or she needs to do — one last time (I’m sure you’ve invested in the dream for more than your child has) — and if the light doesn’t come on put your foot down. Offer the alternatives based on your child’s ability (if Johnny hates Math he ain’t gonna be a STEM professional) and move on.

Finally, if the kid is stubborn and persists on maintaining the dream, you’ll have to set some metrics and put your foot down. If your kid doesn’t meet his/her agreed upon metrics, then as a parent you have the right to snatch your kid out of fantasy land and back into reality. As a responsible parent, it’s up to you to ensure your kid becomes something.

My Own Dream Busting Experience

My trouble child was always that — trouble. I spent a lot of my life cleaning up his messes hoping he would become something or someone “great.” We were fine until high school. My oldest son was an outstanding athlete and a good enough student to get an NCAA athletic scholarship to any Division I college he wanted. Somewhere along the way, he decided he wanted to graduate from high school early and pursue an athletic scholarship. As parents, we were all for it. Anything to get him out of our house and our pocketbook was good with us.

But then, he met a girl. A girl with means. He started having sex and smoking weed. Everything changed. He started sleeping more and doing less. He eventually started slacking in school in the classes he needed to graduate early.

But with his mouth, he espoused his same dreams — to graduate early, to go to a Division I school, and to get a scholarship. My husband and I were looking at him with our eyes thinking maybe he was going to have an Albert Einstein moment and come around, but we didn’t want to be negative and kill that dream.

The dream never happened. I spent more time running him around chasing his dreams attending expensive athletic camps, paying for SAT/ACT prep and tests, seeking tutoring, ensuring he attended all practices and had all the promo stuff like his friends who had their heads on straight. It was exhausting to do all of that and to not get a response. After all, it was his dream — not mines. I cared more about his dreams than he did. Eventually, the end of the year came and he flunked all the classes he needed to graduate early. After going to the school to see what happened, his teachers basically told me my kid was not on the same track I was on.

My son’s coaches and teachers saw things I didn’t see, and of course, they would, they spent 8–12 hours a day with him. More time than we did.

I took the dream off of life support. By the time it was over, I was just ready for him to turn 18 and get out of my house. His behavior, his disrespect for my time, energy, money, and love — everything!

I was trying to fill up a closed vessel. That vessel was my child. The sooner I found closure with what my son wasn’t going to become and set new goals/metrics for what he did have the ability to become, my husband and I felt better. My son was still walking around in a dream cloud until graduation. When he finally realized he’d pissed away any and all opportunities, reality set it.

He’s still floundering today. His floundering is not because I didn’t invest in his dreams, and it’s not because I didn’t tell him the truth (although I feel I should have stopped the charades a lot earlier). His floundering is a direct result of him not working hard enough at his own dream. I sleep well at night because I told him the truth about his dreams and I stopped investing in someone who didn’t care enough about his own future to make his champagne dreams become a reality.

As a parent, it’s not right for kids to abuse us. It’s also not right for us parents to let our kids chase dreams we know full well they are going to never be able to achieve. Kids are also driven by peer-pressure. Their friends may start getting their lives together (or maybe your kid just started paying attention), and suddenly they feel the pressure of being a slacker. Whatever your kids’ reason for not chasing their own dreams much sooner, just know sometimes it’s simply too late to resuscitate a dream.

No one should feel bad for killing a dream when the dream supporter of the dream works harder for the dream than the dreamer. Even if that person happens to be our kid.

Trust me, the kid teachers, colleges, and employers everywhere would appreciate it if you wouldn’t. They see your footprints all over your coddled, helicoptered kid.

It’s Complicated

I’m not sure what the right answers are. For me, I don’t believe in sugar coating anything.

I definitely don’t like to kill a child’s dreams. I don’t like to be bullshitted by kids. I also don’t believe in wasting my time or money. It’s hard to tell if a kid is going to be able to achieve his or her dreams. Some dreams are long-range goals while others are short-term and pretty easily accessible. As parents, we must always decide whether a dream with worthy of chasing or if the dream needs to be taken off life support.

You know your kid best. I know your child dearly and would never do anything to hurt him or her. But sometimes you must. Dreams are just that — dreams. It’s perfectly awesome to have dreams. Dreams can be motivators. Dreams make wonderful Lifetime Movies. Dreams also can cause families great distress when they are trying to help a kid achieve unattainable goals and objectives due to their child’s lack of willingness to work hard to achieve their dreams.

Your kids don’t have to be perfect. In fact, let me be the first to tell you little Johnny and Mary aren’t .Sometimes, parents you gotta be a dream killer and in the same breathe be a truth teller. And that’s okay.

That’s called good parenting.