Are You Living Vicariously Through Your Child?

(Or Am I?!)

callister on a tennis court, for article on living vicariously through your child

Callister at Case Tennis Center

My three-year-old grandson is taking tennis lessons. His athletic interests prompted a Facebook post in which my daughter stated, “My parents may finally have the athlete they always wanted.”  I took offense to that statement, but it did make me think a little deeper and examine my motives. Am I pushing my love of sports onto Callister? Could I be guilty of living vicariously through my grandson?

My husband and I like sports. We met at OSU in the ’70s when we were both college athletes, and we continue to participate in triathlons and open water swims. However, I have no problem and don’t think I ever did, with the fact that neither of our children particularly likes sports. But could I have somehow subconsciously made my children feel pressure to follow in my footsteps? Maybe the fact I was a Physical Education teacher and coach at their school was an unspoken burden? By encouraging my grandson to give tennis a try, am I somehow living vicariously through him? So many questions.

My oldest daughter, the mother of my grandkids, tried lots of activities in elementary school. She played soccer, took ballet, gymnastics, cheerleading, and English riding lessons. She was in Girl Scouts, the gardening club, and volunteered with an animal rescue group. When she started middle school, Alexandra told me that she had decided to focus on what she enjoyed and was good at – academics. She became Valedictorian, National Merit Scholar, and earned a full scholarship to college! I think that’s way more impressive than my “Most Athletic Girl” award in high school!

diane morrow kondos with her daughters at her oldest daughter's graduation, for article on living vicariously through your child

She followed her dreams and became a veterinarian!

It’s only natural to introduce your children to the things you love. I love reading and swimming, so when my children were young, we made frequent trips to the library and pool. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with sharing your interests with your child or grandchild. I want to make sure I’m not living vicariously through my grandson, so I did some reading on the topic. These are some signs you might be living through your child in an unhealthy way.

1. Becoming obsessively involved with your children’s activities

Are you so into being a “soccer mom” that you no longer have interests and activities of your own? It’s easy to lose your identity when you’re a busy parent, but make sure you have a connection with yourself that has nothing to do with your kids. If they quit playing soccer next week, would a big chunk of your identity be lost?

2. Forcing your child to participate in something they don’t like

There is so much in life we must insist our children do – go to school, brush their teeth, and eat their vegetables. Why force your child to do extracurricular activities they don’t like? One of my daughters was naturally athletic but had no interest in teams or competition. Her friends were all playing basketball and begged her to join. She wanted to take art lessons, so I respected that choice. One of the bonuses of your kids being involved in different activities is exposure to new things. Because my daughter became an artist, I learned so much I never would have known about that world.

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My daughter Caroline is an artist, a talent that passed me by, but I love knowing more about art because of her. More importantly, she is happy following HER dream!

3. Making decisions about your children’s activities based on your disappointments

The situation I described above might have applied if I had pushed basketball on my daughter. I loved basketball in high school, but I grew up in an era when girls in my hometown were not allowed to play basketball. If I had pushed my daughter to play, it would have been motivated by my lost dreams and disappointments.

4. Do you offer bribes or give punishments based on performance?

When I was a swim coach, I saw this a few times with young athletes and their parents. Parents who live vicariously through their children often place inappropriate importance on what should be considered fun activities. A new toy shouldn’t be a reward for a home run, and a verbal lashing shouldn’t be a punishment for a strikeout.

5. Are you getting too emotionally intense at your child’s games or performances?

It’s not always sports, but the screaming parent in the stands is what comes to mind. It makes me think the parent is getting their identity way too intertwined with their child. They are also setting a terrible example for their child.

6. Are you making your child a “trophy” child?

Do you view your child’s performance or status as a direct reflection of you? Social media makes this almost an addictive competition, with parents posting every accomplishment of their child. I honestly love seeing all the happy postings, but it could be a problem if you’re becoming too dependent on your child’s accomplishments to satisfy your need for attention.

Accept and love the child you have rather than making them conform to your dreams and aspirations. Maybe they will love the same things you do, but perhaps they will go in a totally different direction. Allow them to explore various options and support them in their dreams.

I’m having fun watching Callister play tennis because, let’s admit it, a three-year-old with a tennis racquet running all over the court is pretty darn cute. But don’t worry, I haven’t reserved courtside seats at Wimbledon yet. His excitement about tennis might last a decade, or this week could be his last lesson. I am prepared to sit through tennis matches, soccer games, or swim meets. But I will also be happy to attend ballet recitals, art shows, or spelling bees.

After doing some introspection, I realize I may be on the borderline. I’ll check my behavior periodically and make sure I am being the supportive grandparent and not the overly involved, narcissistic grandparent! And to respond to my daughter’s Facebook post, I got the exact children I wanted!

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The Tulsa Run is a fun family tradition, but maybe we did carry it too far by dressing Callister as Steve Prefontaine?

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Categories: Grand Life