Parental projecting works two ways according to my experience. (1) A parent can try to mold a child into what they wanted to become or what they want them to be or (2) a parent envisions negative outcomes for their child in fear for what they think the child will become due to something the child did or did not do or based on information about another child.
The first is pretty clear, a parent expects their child to follow direction to become a firefighter, football player, rancher, politician or other career they perhaps wanted for themselves or their child. They may provide resources and experiences to push the child in that direction.
In the second, as an example, the parent may perceive a child as lazy then projects to the future seeing the child as a ne’er-do-well that won’t amount to anything. The parent may proceed to push the child to do chores or homework in hopes of getting the laziness out. Also in the second you will find a parent who hears about a child who steals, is promiscuous, disrespects parents or swears and in response they put stops in place to prevent a behavior that hasn’t occurred yet.
My husband gave our daughter Francisca access to his computers and put books in her hands very early and talked often how he wanted her to become a lawyer or doctor. I took one such book to my Parents Anonymous group to get their take on it and handed the book to our chemical-engineer mom. We watched Caroline flip page after page then she said it looked like a great book and wanted to know who was in college. It was for my six-year-old daughter in elementary school— the room erupted with laughter.
Fast forward, Francisca struggled her first year in pre-med at Rutgers University until she switched to her real calling as an English major. My husband was crushed when she broke the news but finally accepted her decision to switch majors— only then did she truly blossom. Francisca’s father now clings to the idea of going back to school himself to change careers. I silently wonder— was he molded into someone else’s dream?
Next is my own projection, one I’m not too proud of but sharing this may prevent another parent making the same mistake. This may also hit home for other parents attending Parents Anonymous groups worldwide. By the very nature of a parent support group, we are there giving and getting help for the different issues we face as parents on a weekly basis. This means often hearing the worst case scenarios that may strike fear in the heart of any parent. After hearing another member’s daughter was sexually active (she allowed her to date very early) I immediately decided there would be no dating until the age of seventeen or later— an unrealistic and irrational decision that in no way stemmed from any indicators from my daughter.
After talking with a few other longtime members of my Parents Anonymous group I learned I was not alone. Several agreed we had become stricter parents because of things we heard in group. Chances are this might be replicated in any parent support group regardless of venue or name. As for myself, other than the dating issue, I probably lightened up on the strict-o-meter scale somewhat for most other issues.
If you are a parent in any parent support group— a circle of friends, parents at the lunch table at work or at a church committee— be aware of projecting as it affects you. Don’t blame or punish your child for the actions of another. Ask yourself if there is reason to be concerned, has behavior changed? Are they being secretive? Has their style of dressing changed? Don’t be alarmed without a valid reason.
As for the original and more well-known form of projecting, you can change your own actions if you want. If you come from a long line of people serving in the military, musicians, plumbers or used-car salespersons— your child will be who they are in the end. Find their interests and focus there. Nurture their interests and their career or a calling will emerge naturally. I recently learned that a full fifty percent of college students will switch majors in their first year. You can try to influence your child while young but how can any parent possibly know what a child will become till then?
Copyright © 2014 Jackie Saulmon Ramirez. All Rights Reserved.
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