Projecting is a common challenge for parents, especially fathers. Projection involves casting our own fears, doubts, hopes, or dreams on our children and expecting them to respond in ways that may not be in their best interest. There are three distinct kinds of projecting that parents fall into and each presents a particular danger.
Sometimes a father expects his son to be everything he was. The most common version is the football hero who demands that his son practice constantly in order to be the star of the team. In other cases, it is the exact opposite — a father may be adamant that his son will not follow in some of his less-proud footsteps. For example, a father who was socially awkward may be determined that his son is going to be the most popular kid in school.
The third variation is the projection of what could have been. When a father had the potential as a boy to be a great pitcher or quarterback or cellist or whatever but left it behind due to injury or poor attitude or for whatever reason, he may feel a natural tendency to push his son to be the man that he could have been but never was.
In any of these cases, there is a very real temptation to push the next generation in a direction to either recreate or avoid our own past. We’ve got to to be aware of and take steps to avoid this tendency. It is easy to confuse the proper desire to support our child with the projection of our own glory days or unfulfilled dreams.
When the opportunity comes for you son to [insert activity here] take a moment to stop and consider your motivations. Are you signing him up for him or for you? Have you reasonably considered whether he is interested in the activity because he enjoys it or because he is trying to please you? Are you supporting his development or pushing your agenda?
Stop and talk to your child about the activity, the requirements and benefits, and listen to him. If you open a conversation in which your son feels free to express his true feelings about the activity and you are willing to introspectively reflect on your role it won’t take long for you to divine your true inner motivation.
Even if your son moves in a direction other than you had hoped you will find that everyone is happier than if you continually push him toward something he doesn’t enjoy for reasons that have more to do with your past than his future.