“Dream high,” my mother always told me when I was a kid. She wanted me to become a successful doctor, a well-known businesswoman, or a rich supermodel. While I have always been thankful for her efforts in raising me the best she could, I also could never shake off the feeling of being pressured, of being an extension of someone else’s dreams. That is something I would never want to impose on my children.
I know, I know. It doesn’t sound like a big deal. Surely all parents ought to encourage their children to want big things in life? Well, I think all parents also ought to listen to their child—not just by halfheartedly hearing their nonsensical mumblings, but by intently listening to what they have to say.
Beyond their occasional stutters and weird remarks, children can be wise, too.
When my 4-year-old son told me with full conviction he wants to become a truck driver when he grows up, I couldn’t help but question him at the moment. Of all the jobs out there, why that?
“I love trucks!” he said, and I almost saw his toy trucks the way he sees them too—a vehicle of endless possibility—and I knew then that this child will go places. Literally. But he is smart for his age, and a shallow, pretentiously pragmatic part of me knew he can do better than just a truck driver.
“That’s great, baby. You’re gonna be the best truck driver there is, alright?” I told him back then, but until now an intrusive thought still bugs me: What if he actually ends up achieving that dream? Won’t he regret it? Will he earn enough to support himself especially now that our economy is just getting worse? Surely these worries are common among parents.
Like all mothers, I only want what’s best for my children. But I also know that sometimes, the little kids know better. I remember my mother forcing me onto a career path I had no interest in, but she thought would be the best for my future. Now I’m a minimum-wage earner doing my best to raise two children on my own. Of course, many factors have contributed to my present situation but the bottom line is . . .
I didn’t have room to have my own dreams with all the expectations my parents put on me, and now I’m lost.
So, I did my best to shake my worries off and imagine my child growing up without losing all the enthusiasm in life he has now. How naïve of me to assume my insecurities would leave me alone so easily.
My 9-year-old daughter who currently studies in third grade recently asked me what my job is called because they were asked in school what they want to be and she wants to be just like me. I told her she can be anything she wants to be—a teacher, an engineer, a librarian, a doctor, anything.
Still, she persisted in wanting to be like me, so I told her I’m a machine operator at a company. After confirming if she spelled “machine operator” correctly, she went back to her online class like the good girl she is. What she doesn’t know is I don’t have a degree, and that’s all my high school diploma can give me. I could’ve had an easier, better job if I finished college, but I didn’t.
Honestly? I don’t want my children to be like me. I want them to dream high.
I want them to finish college and get a job where they can earn enough to survive and pursue their passions without overworking themselves and leaving almost no time to relax. How can I help them achieve that without becoming like my mother who forced me to dream high only for me to fall down?
My dilemma reminded of me the story from Greek mythology about the inventor Daedalus and his son Icarus. They had to escape the labyrinth so the father made two sets of wings to help them fly away and reminded his son not to fly too high nor too low to avoid damaging the wings until they reach safety. However, Icarus was too fascinated with the thrill of flying that he failed to heed his father’s advice and ended up flying too high, melting the wax off his wings and falling down.
I know this story is supposed to teach us that over-confidence is bad and we should always listen to what the elders have to say, especially our parents. But now, I can’t help but ask, just how well did Daedalus know his son? They were together for a long time in the labyrinth, but Daedalus was a busy inventor, and maybe he didn’t get to know his own child better. If only he were aware of Icarus’ tendency to get carried away in flight, then he would have made a point of constructing the wings so they wouldn’t have failed, even in higher altitudes.
Perhaps, our role as parents isn’t to tell our children what to want in life or how much they should want it.
Maybe we would be able to save them from future mishaps not by assuming what’s best for them, but by knowing them so well we can mold our support into just the kind of help they need. Parenting is complicated and cannot be forced into a generic formula we can all just follow blindly. Every child is different. Their minds may change about their own desires, but the lessons and tools we can provide them to survive in life will always be there to guide them.
No, I won’t be like my mother who asked me to dream so high that I forgot to spend my days in deep understanding of myself. I will be who my children need me to be. I will support my children no matter what and raise them to be good, hardworking, and strong. It won’t be easy, but just hearing my daughter read aloud to her little brother as I write this gives me a lifetime supply of motivation to keep fighting for them.