Giving Our Children the Space to Dream

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A few weeks ago, my 14 year-old son confided in me some of his singing aspirations for high school.

Given that I'm perpetually daring people to dream, you'd think I'd have let out a whoop and a holler.  I didn't.  Not even close.  In fact, rather than asking him how I could help, I began to rattle off reasons why his goals might be difficult to achieve.  Though well-intentioned, rather than shielding him from disappointment, I only managed to send the message that I didn't believe in him — just as I had done four years ago.  So much for disappointment damage control.

A day or two later, I realized that while I may have an inkling as to my son's possibilities, I don't have the whole picture.  I apologized to him, acknowledging that no matter how much I love him, and think I know what's best, ultimately only he, with providential help, can know.  That I really don't know was further underscored when I saw David play the role of Jean Valjean (Les Miserables) in the St. Peters' school play.  Truly, I was blown away.  Not only did he sing and act better than I expected, in seeing him on the stage, my perception of him shifted.  I saw him as his own person.  Not just the kid who sleeps, watches TV, and doesn't pick up his clothes, but as someone who can make a difference in his own right.

It is so tempting to mandate our children's dreams, and then to live vicariously through them. All of us do this at least a little.  But when we can gently remind ourselves to pull back, letting our children dream their own dreams, they can as Abigail Adams said “fill their circle marked by heaven.” And we, as their parents, will have the inestimable privilege of bearing witness to their lives.

If your children are older, do you remember the moment when you first realized that they were real people, unexpectedly competent and unique?

P.S.   In retrospect, it is also remarkable that our daughter would not have auditioned for the play without the encouragement of David.  Sure he teases her mercilessly, but he believed in her.  It was lovely, small miracle.

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