Your Children Are Not Your Children: How to Separate Your Dreams from Theirs

Photo by hans s on Flickr

Last night I had an anxiety dream about an upcoming performance.

My 7 yr old's upcoming performance in a Dr. Seuss musical.

As you may expect, the dream involved a stage.
As you may not necessarily expect, it also featured an underground cell, a naked light bulb, and some Nazi officers -- for whom we had to perform in order to save our lives.
And yes, I did say "we."

I am not proud to admit it, but my unconscious had the nerve to put me up there, center stage, among 20 singing kids, sweating and worrying about mundane things like knowing my lines and remembering my dance moves.

REALLY! As though I would ever dream of MERGING myself with my child in that manner, like one big undifferentiated Freudian mass.

Well, OK, I did dream of it. But I couldn't HELP it!

I mean here is a part of my parenting I've always felt positive about. I've never been tempted to live vicariously through my kids or to place my unfulfilled hopes and desires on their shoulders.

In my darker moments, I've even been known to scoff (privately) at those "over-involved" parents who loom at the periphery of every soccer game in a state of near apoplexy, alternating between shouted encouragements and admonitions, as though their next paycheck depended on their kid's ability to do a perfect banana kick.

What in the world is going on with me, then? Where is my Maria Montessori alter ego when I need her?

Apparently, her voice has been drowned out by the trumpeting noise of some unfulfilled hopes and desires which I have not acknowledged to myself.

According to my understanding of NVC, our actions and reactions are an attempt to meet our deep seated needs for things like creativity, contribution, connection, peace, love, and - good sushi. When we deny our needs - whether small hidden desires or larger than life longings - they have a way of expressing themselves in other arenas, when we least expect it.

Like bright rubber balls that you try to push beneath the surface of the water, needs are unsupressable and will pop back up in a different spot, probably hitting someone on the back of the head while they're at it.

My Nazi performance dream, then, is not a call to better self control and self-flagellation (as tempting as that ancient practice sounds), but a call to examine the crevices of my heart for neglected and unrecognized needs.

And by Needs - I do not mean Strategies (like "joining local theater group") but underlying desires and hopes, such as "more outlets for my self-expression" or "more playfulness and fun in my life". Once I have clarity about the underlying needs, I am more likely to access creative strategies that work for me and the family (hmmmm... how about buying some fancy colored pencils and grainy paper to play with? or going to a craft store and seeing what pops out at me?)

My longings are important signposts for me to follow.

My belief is that, when I do, I move closer to the parent I want to be, the parent described by Kahlil Gibran in this poem from "The Prophet":

On Children 
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.


  1. Elaine, Now I'm reading your blog and crying happily. I've had "call Elaine" on my to do list for several days. I think I'll put it higher on the list tomorrow!

  2. Heidi - thank you for writing in!
    It gives me joy to hear that something in this post moved you! Isn't it wonderful how we all interlock with each other's lives in ways we don't even know? Sending you warm thoughts.