Every parent has hopes and dreams for their child; a fantasy! You looked at your newborn boy and saw endless possibilities. He’ll be a doctor, star athlete, CEO of a corporation or President of the United States!
The problem with this kind of thinking is that there is usually—in fact, always—a difference between this fantasy son you’ve created in your mind and the actual, flesh-and-blood son you have in real life.
To get parents thinking about the difference between their expectations for their son and the reality of who he is, I put together this exercise.
Grab a piece of paper and a pen.
First, think about the child you saw in your mind when you first heard the words, “It’s a boy.” Who did you dream that boy would be at this moment in his life?
Write it all down, you should fill at least half a page to a page. Remember that there are no wrong answers or good or bad here. All parents have dreams and expectations for their children. Now is the time to write them down and acknowledge them.
Now take that piece of paper, and everything it represents, and throw it away. Because, as you probably already know, that fantasy son does not exist.
The process of destroying this “fantasy son” may spark a reaction, like sadness or anger. That’s completely normal. It’s normal to grieve for the son you dreamed of raising and never had.
One More Time!
Here’s the second half of the exercise.
Write a new list, this time of things you know about the son you have today.
- Who is this boy at this moment in his life?
- What sort of things does he do?
- What are his strengths?
- His weaknesses?
- What is his life like?
Write both the bad and the good things and again, try to fill at least a half a page. Be honest. There’s no judgment involved, so write everything you know is true.
Likely this list is significantly different from the list you made before, and if that’s the case, you did it right. The first list you made wasn’t worth much, which is why I had you throw it away. But this new list has the power to help you and your son move forward.
For example, you’ll probably see your son’s problem behavior on this new list (and if you don’t, you should go back and add it). Now you shouldn’t be surprised by that behavior, because you have acknowledged it on your list. Now you can deal with it by figuring out where you need to set boundaries and what solutions will encourage your son to respect those boundaries.
You should also see some of your son’s good qualities on that list—and if you don’t, go back until you can come up with at least three of them. This is critically important, because, by acknowledging and identifying these good qualities, you give yourself and your son a starting place for the journey ahead. When you start by looking for and focusing on the things about your son that are good and positive, you put yourself in a place of support and appreciation for the real, unique, flesh-and-blood human being your child is.
Pause and Breathe!
I designed this exercise to bring parents like you into the present moment. By letting go and grieving the child you never had, you can stop trying to force the child you do have to fit the mold of this fantasy son you invented before you had any idea what parenting was all about.
Now, you can begin to see your child for the person he truly is, learn to appreciate his unique gifts, and focus on what you can do to help him grow and thrive; which may mean also getting him help.
It’s time to stop dreaming about who you want your son to be and help him become the healthy, happy and successful man he’s supposed to be.