We spent our weekend at an event for children and young adults who were hoping to connect with an agent and start a career in acting or modeling. Stress was unavoidable. And yet, everyone was choosing to be in this stressful environment because of a dream. The kids came to make their dreams come true. The parents attended to support their children. Most were obviously involved parents, in a positive sense. Some had flown in from other states, some had driven long hours, all were paying the bill. Many of them, myself included, were way out of their comfort zone. We were taking in huge amounts of information while staying on top of where our kids were supposed to be, who was being called for auditions or to be on stage, and doing our best to meet our children's needs - often while loud music rocked the room. Even though everyone was feeling varying degrees of tension, there was no yelling, no screaming, or cringe worthy parent/child interactions.
Watching parents reunite with their children who had just performed a 30 second monologue, starting at the word "action" and stopping when they were done or at the word "time," was fascinating. Most of the parents smiled and shared words of encouragement, support or excitement. Here were children as young as 4 standing in line waiting their turn to perform in front of two strangers, who sat behind a table only a few feet away. Most of us watched with our hearts pounding, amazed at our child's courage and determination. Those who managed to watch with a critical eye, who greeted their child afterward tight lipped and dissatisfied, were most likely the parents who were trying to live their own dream through their child. There were a few. The mother of the twin girls, no older than 5, who said to me, as we waited to hear if our children had caught the eye of an agent, "They just want to go swimming. They are like, 'We've done what you asked. Now can we go swimming?'" How different from the mother who explained, "She says she wants to be Matilda. It's all about her." The latter was a child, age 4, who performed a 30 second commercial at the word "action" without hesitation and with expression. She took her afternoon nap in her mother's arms, woke up and 5 minutes later was on stage learning how to hit the X on the corner and turn to wave at the agents who would be watching her the next day. A child of 4 who had a dream. A mother who was doing whatever it took to support that dream.
As I was walking through this mass of remarkable people, I thought "Everyone has a dream." At this event that was true. However, in society at large that does not ring true. Everyone should have a dream, but dreams are often discouraged. Parents and grandparents may encourage children toward practical careers. They want their children to grow up and have security, stability and a "good life," without considering what kind of life might be good for their child. Schools encourage children to get good grades, prepare for tests, and score well on those tests. Schools are created with required classes, expected behaviors, generic benchmarks, and a rigid schedule. In schools children are told what to learn, when to sit, move, speak, eat and even when they can go to the bathroom. It is a rare school that leaves space for dreams. Even then, your dream has to fit within the school's approved dreams. Often there is no allowance for dreams until high school. Then, if your school is large enough, there may be sports, dance, art, and theater, along with advanced academic opportunities. Unfortunately, by the time kids have reached high school their dreams may have already been lost, or they did not had opportunities to explore the world and find a dream to hold onto.
Encourage dreams. Part of encouraging dreams is validating interests and passions however odd or irrelevant they may seem. Do not discount someone else's dream just because it does not resonate with you and your dreams. Do not discount someone else's dream because you are jealous that they have opportunities that you did not have, or that they dared to dream when you went with what was expected. Do not encourage conformity for conformity's sake. If your child says, "When I grow up I'm going to be a car salesperson." do not belittle that idea. She may grow up and happily sell cars, because helping people buy the car that is right for them brings her joy. Or she may leave the desire to sell cars behind and move on to designing cars or building cars or racing cars. If your child wants to play basketball do not tell him that he is too short. Instead, support his love of the game and see where it leads. He may end up being the next Muggsy Bogues, but he also might go into sports medicine, become a coach or end up working for ESPN as a commentator. As parents it is not up to us to determine what our child's dream should or should not be. It is not for us to decide what our child can and cannot achieve in their life time. As parents we have the opportunity to explore the world with our children. We can suggest new things to try or find new outlets for our child's interests, accepting their interest or lack of interest in our suggestions. We have the opportunity to expand our horizons as we support our children when their dreams take us places we would have never gone on our own.
As parents we need to give our children the opportunity to own their dreams. It is easy to get wrapped up in our child's dream and find ourselves pushing them when we should let them move forward when they are ready. We may find ourselves saying that we are proud of their accomplishments when they should be free to be proud of themselves. We may need to step back and let them try new things on their own even if it makes us nervous. We may need to remind ourselves that this is their journey, not ours. We may be their support person, their chauffeur, the person who pays the bills and makes sure the clothes they need is clean, but our child must be comfortable with our level of involvement. We must make sure that we are there for them when they need us, but we must also make sure that we do not infringe on their dreams because of our need to feel needed or our need to be in control. One way to avoid getting overly involved in our children's dreams is to follow dreams of our own. If we have lost touch with our dreams, or perhaps were never encouraged to dream, our children may be a source of inspiration as we see their joy in following their dreams. When we take the time to follow our dreams we may find that our children are our biggest fans, just as we are theirs.