When Living Vicariously Through Your Children Is Not Such A Bad Thing (2024)

When Living Vicariously Through Your Children Is Not Such A Bad Thing (1)

Living vicariously through our children: generally we consider that desperate, needy, bad. But recently I’ve contemplated how that isn’t such a bad thing.

My therapist recently said (pretend that’s a normal way to start a sentence) that we heal ourselves in the way that we parent. This doesn’t mean giving our kids what we never had materially. It means filling emotional gaps that we carry into adulthood.

I never wanted for anything as a child. My parents loved us, worked hard for us, were wonderful capitalists, and created a lot of wealth. But they also chose a religion that left me very isolated. I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness so I was forbidden from making many friends at school or socializing with the ones I did make after school. I was not allowed to join organized sports or any secular activities. I could not attend dances or football games or birthday parties. I never celebrated a holiday or received a Christmas or birthday present. I became very internal and bookish as a result.

In retrospect it was lonely. I desperately wanted to be a part of normal social life. I would daydream about what it would be like. I wanted to go to the prom and summer camp and join the debate team but I never asked because I knew it was frowned upon.

Last month a boy in my son’s class had a birthday. His mother brought treats for the class and the teacher called to ask if my son could partake. The call went to voicemail. I called back as if it were a medical emergency.

“YES!! Yes, he can have a treat! He can always have what everyone else is having!” The front office promised to give the teacher the message but the little girl inside of me was triggered. I had to make sure! I couldn’t let him sit out of a birthday party like I had been forced to do in my school days. I nearly drove to the school to make sure he was offered that donut but the receptionist assured me she would deliver the message so that he wasn’t left out.

I followed up with a frantic email to both teachers. My son has standing permission to have what everyone else is having!! He is never to be left out of an event (unless it is for disciplinary reasons)! He shall not sit on the sidelines like his mother did!

I had flashbacks to my Kindergarten teacher Mrs Mueller, bless her heart. She kept a sleeve of Ritz crackers for me when the other kids had birthday celebrations. I still choke up when I think of my 5 year old self accepting those crackers, head down, walking to sit outside the classroom. Eating dry crackers, listening to echoes of the class singing “Happy Birthday” inside.

I wasn’t hungry for the treats. I was hungry to belong, like every child is.

But now I am part of a family that belongs! We throw big birthday parties and I bake for Christmas bake sales and attend co*cktail parties for their schools and make playdates. I feel like the 5 year old inside of me is finally getting to participate.

So yes, I am living vicariously. What’s wrong with that?

Psychologists have a term for living vicariously through children: achievement by proxy syndrome. It can be an unhealthy syndrome. But I focus here on the distinction in the word “achievement.” What I am living in my children is not an achievement. My son’s first Christmas tree was mine too. If my daughter wants to buy a prom dress, it will be my first prom dress too. I won’t try to wear it!

I won’t make them do the activities I wasn’t allowed, although I’ll give them the option. I won’t force them to apply to Berkeley just because that school rejected me. (Twice! Bastards.)

We all have emotional gaps from our upbringing. Some people didn’t get enough love, respect, attention, some lost parents, some felt ostracized for their race, creed, body image. We can heal those wounds as adults and sometimes our families are key to that healing process. So why not embrace that? It could make us better parents and people all around.

When Living Vicariously Through Your Children Is Not Such A Bad Thing (2024)
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