Children love to dream. Whether they dream about life, the future, or fantastic stories from their imagination, they know how to dream big.
From the moment they begin speaking and through their adolescence they blissfully proclaim their desire to be a princess, a doctor, the President, or the next big NBA basketball star. As parents, we encourage them tirelessly and remind them they truly can be anything they want to be.
Behind the scenes of our consciousness, however, we make their dreams our dreams. We commit to doing whatever it takes – expensive clothes, extra tutoring, second mortgage to pay for private school, traveling sports teams, doing their homework for them – anything and everything to enable them to persevere in those early big dreams.
Too often we hold on to their big dreams with an unrelenting grip, as though they are our own dreams.
In the meantime our own personal ambitions and big dreams lie scribbled down in dusty journals labeled “One Day…” Or perhaps you’ve settled and allowed these aspirations to be a reason to chuckle at your own grandiose expectations you once had for yourself. Why is it our dreams don’t seem nearly as achievable as those chalked onto the fresh slates of our children’s lives?
The dilemma for parents is perseverance, which often feels like a two-faced friend. We value perseverance in our daily parenting struggles, but we progressively make our lives more about persevering for our children than for ourselves and are left empty and unfulfilled.
It’s the subtle mindset saying, “A little vicarious success and reflective glory from our children will surely satiate my aspirations to accomplish big dreams. I’ll just do everything I can so my kids will know the success/ popularity/(whatever) I never experienced.”
Persevering through a big dream is personal though. The hard work, grit, determination, suffering, failures and successes must be experienced individually. What lessons are taught to children who are protected from the work of perseverance? Will they know what perseverance looks like and feels like?
Parents are not meant to persevere through their children’s dreams on their behalf.
Seventeen years ago I had a big dream, several simultaneously to be exact. I was 21 years old, in my first year of pharmacy school, and recently engaged to be married when I decided to start running for exercise. I was inspired by a friend and thought, “One day maybe I’ll run a lot, like a marathon or something. That would be amazing to accomplish that sort of feat. One day….” I tucked the dream away knowing that “one day” wouldn’t be soon as I had yet persevered through my first big dream of my college degree.
After 3 years, my college graduation, wedding, and a cross country move I ran my first half-marathon. I felt like I had conquered the world. Over the following 14 years and during my developing career, infertility battles, adoption of 7 children, and start of my own business, I ran 5 more half-marathons. They all felt incredible, yet every one left me feeling slightly unfulfilled. The big dream of the full marathon still loomed in my heart.
I could have easily dismissed the dream as crazy and unnecessary. No one was putting pressure on me to try for 26.2 miles. I had 7 lovely (but needy) children in 3 different schools, a full time job, and a looming deadline for the first draft of my book all as valid reasons why I should postpone this big dream. Training a body to run 26 miles consumes a lot of time. This was time I wasn’t sure I had to give to my dream (and thus, take away from my family.) In my heart I knew this big dream was for far more than my own personal fulfillment; I needed to be an example.
The one thing your children need is an example for how to persevere through personal big dreams.
My big dreams and expectations can’t be only for my children’s success, for they’ll never see what perseverance looks like firsthand and I would be left empty and unfulfilled.
As I write this I am just days after completing my first full marathon.
After months of Saturday night spaghetti dinners and early morning moonlit runs when I’d come home exhausted and weak with nothing left to give, my kids were just as happy as I was for it be done. My children didn’t inquire about the fine details of my race. They didn’t care much about my final time or how impossible the last 3 miles felt.
They just held my medal, looked at me and with wonder said, “You did it Mom!”
No one could run my race for me. I would not receive the medal declaring me a 26.2 finisher unless my two feet hit the pavement for 5 hours.
We cannot run our children’s race. We cannot hand them their big dreams on a platter. No amount of perseverance on their behalf will achieve their big dreams for them. Their big dreams are between them and the Lord, and their fulfillment is out of our hands.
Take heart, though, parents are still vitally important to their big dreams. Here’s what we can do:
- Pray. Our children will never cease needing our prayers. The Lord can breathe life back into the driest bones of a dream. Hope is never lost when our hope is rightfully placed on the Lord.
- Belief. The craziest of dreams need to be believed in. As parents who intimately know the hearts of our children, the best gift we can give is our belief in their dreams.
- Support. It’s easy to give support and encouragement when the road to the dream is easy. It’s the arduous uphill stretch when our kids need us the most. When they feel like giving up the most is when our support will benefit them the greatest.
- Follow Your Own Big Dream. Everyone has big dreams and the best way to teach is to model. Do you still dream of going back to college? Is there a child you dreamed of adopting? Did you dream of starting a non-profit or opening a business? Have you dreamed of writing a book?
Go for it. Your children will vaguely remember how they felt in the moments as you pursued your big dream but they will always remember your perseverance to see it to completion.
And one day, after they have worked endlessly towards a goal, sacrificed and suffered, yet persevered, you will look at them with wonder and say,
“You did it.”