Ideally, parents want their children to be similar (if not better) versions of themselves. We’ve “been around the block” so to speak and have learned a lot of lessons, developed a lot of characteristics and acquired a lot of hobbies and skills that we want to pass on to our offspring.
We do this not just because we think we can help mold our kids into great people – we also want to be able to relate to them on multiple levels.
This makes perfect sense — what better way to bond with your child than through a mutual appreciation for things.
Some of these common denominators we aspire for seem rather inconsequential: a love for football or guitar or camping or tennis or live music or skiing. Other qualities you want to pass on to your children seem significantly more important such as religious beliefs or political affiliations.
As a parent, it can be profoundly frustrating and heartbreaking when your kid doesn’t show the same affection or affinity toward hobbies that you dreamt of one day sharing with him or her. This can be increasingly hard to reconcile when these interests extend to different values or ideologies that you and your spouse so desperately cling to.
It’s easy to wonder where you went wrong when this happens. Were you not persistent or attentive enough? Did you not start teaching them early enough or were immune to obvious warning signs? Did you foolishly allow them to hang out with the wrong kids or go to the wrong school or spend too much time on the internet?
The answer is that there probably wasn’t a whole lot you could have done differently.
Let’s say your teenager one day comes home and declares they are a liberal vegan Buddhist. That might be a hard pill to swallow, even if it’s just a phase. Your initial reaction might be a mixture of surprise and resentment. You may feel as though you somehow failed or shirked your parenting responsibilities. “Did your father and I not teach you ANYTHING?”
But it’s actually quite the opposite – you instilled in your child a sense of independence, critical thought, exploration, and self-autonomy. They are finding their own identity which is exactly what teenagers and younger people are SUPPOSED to do. Instead of fear-mongering and ridiculing your offspring’s beliefs, interests, or hobbies (whether it be death metal rock or a crusade to save the whales) ask questions. Show interest. Try to understand.
Remember: it is NOT your child’s job to emulate you or your spouse; It is their job to figure out who they are, separate from their parents.
So, fight the urge to be disappointed or demeaning. Mocking their interests doesn’t keep them from being who they are – it only keeps them from being authentic and close to you. There’s nothing wrong with encouraging them to explore WHY they are adopting habits, characteristics, viewpoints, and hobbies that detail from your teachings. But, at the end of the day, it’s your job as a parent to encourage them to be independent, NOT mini versions of yourself.