Your Son Vs My Son- Parental Rivalries & Living Vicariously

Do you know parents live vicariously through their sons and daughters? It seems the whole household revolves around whatever hobby or sport the kids are doing at the time. And often these same parents vie for the attention of their child like a best friend, rather than acting like parents.

Your son versus my son is an approach some parents take who live vicariously. These parents act like their son’s coach or best friend, so the family focus is on the son and not the family as a whole or led by the parents as a unit. Regardless of intentions, this is not healthy for any involved.

As a mom of four, this topic is near to my heart, but also as a retired teacher, I’ve seen my fair share of parents living vicariously. This usually is combined with parental rivalries for their son or daughter’s affection and attention, too.

So please read on as I share my experiences with this topic and suggestions of how to not let living vicariously and rivalries seep into your home, and how to deal with it if it has.

What does it mean for parents to live vicariously?

Coaches often see examples of parents living vicariously through their children.

First, let’s define what it means to live vicariously as parents: what does this look like and how to recognize if it’s happening in your own home.

For parents to live vicariously through their sons or daughters means they have turned their children’s actions into their own personal desires or dreams. This means parents push their kids to sports, academics, or even social functions as a means to satisfy the parents, not the kids.

Parents who live vicariously through their kids, while it may seem they are focused on their child, they’re actually motivated by the parent’s ideals and goals.

We have lots of names for this, which has become quite well-known in the school system too. Some examples, while not an exhaustive list, are helicopter parent; lawn-mower parents; ‘tiger moms’; ‘mama bear’; ‘sport dad’; cosseter; and velcro parent.

These parents hover so much that the parent-child relationship gets blurred, where kids run the show, but also become so co-dependent on their parent to push and make all the decisions for them that the child can’t function later on in life.

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Another popular example of parents living vicariously is with the hit show, Dance Moms. I don’t think you need to watch a full episode to come to the conclusion that ‘living vicariously’ is actually what’s on the screen!

Dance Moms is a TV show that supposedly is about daughters who do competition dance; it’s aptly titled with a focus on the moms.

In Don’t Should on Your Kids: Build Their Mental Toughness by Dr. Rob Bell and Bill Parisi, one quote is “Great parents ask their kid, ‘How was your day?’ not just ‘How was your practice?'” This is an example of how not to live vicariously through your kids.

Yes, you’re still asking about you child’s day, but it’s not about your child’s specific successes or hobbies, rather you’re asking your child how he or she feels about it. It’s a big difference.

Sadly more parents are not allowing their kids to leave home. A new trend is when they leave for college; parents are following them to school, buying a place nearby.

Don’t Should on Your Kids: Build Their Mental Toughness by Dr. Rob Bell and Bill Parisi

Parents who push their kids to achieve should realize that if their kids require ‘pushing’ it’s probably not something they are interested in. Whether it’s sports, music, or academics, kids don’t have to excel. It’s okay to be satisfactory, actually.

Why do some parents live vicariously?

So once you understand what living vicariously actually is, then the next question might be ‘why do some parents do it?’ What’s the motivation for living vicariously, because in reality, it’s not your life, but theirs?

Parents live vicariously for selfish reasons. It’s more about them than their children. They either like how it makes them look in the eyes of their peers and the feeling it gives them internally or live vicariously as a sacrifice to give their kids everything they didn’t have themselves growing up.

In one study, two-thirds of parents admitted to pushing children to follow a certain career path.

Believe it or not, there are some positives as well as negatives to parents living vicariously through their sons and daughters. So what is this?

The Hidden Reason Parents Live Vicariously Is Selfish: Parents live vicariously because their kids’ successes make them feel good. It helps them overtly look better in the eyes of their peers (from the parents’ perspective) and it actually helps parents emotionally, repairing their personal wounds.

Most parents who live vicariously through their kids don’t set out to do so (consciously)- that is, that isn’t the motivating factor. They tell themselves that it’s with good intention: to create a good life for their children. But in reality, this isn’t what keeps these kinds of parents on the end game.

These parents like how it makes them look and feel in comparison to others. When their kids succeed, it looks like the parents are successful, too-on the outside.

These are the parents who often have more pictures of their kids with trophies and awards hanging up at the office than anything else. As well, ‘the office’ knows all about their kids’ latest achievements even if they’ve never met them.

However, another motivation for parents is that it just makes them feel good internally, not that it makes their kids feel good. And this is, of course, just as selfish for parents to desire.

It’s also accurate- that it makes them feel good internally.

A Netherlands study found that some parents are able to heal their own personal wounds through being fulfilled by their children’s successes. In this regard, parents live vicariously supporting their children in order to make up their own failures, and that experience, if fulfilled, helps them personally.

Now to be clear, it is not necessarily an overt motivation for parents, but more than likely a by-produce that occurs and continues to keep parents along the path of vicarious living.

While another study (from 2013) found evidence that many ‘sports dads’ and ‘stage moms’ push their kids in order for their kids to fulfill the parents’ own broken dreams.

Parents Live Vicariously For Their Kids:

Often though, parents live vicariously as a sacrifice. They don’t truly feel fulfilled or desire the attention for themselves; they actually do it as a way to give to their kids. Often these parents were neglected (or felt neglected) and came from homes where their desires were overlooked or seemed unimportant.

In this way, parents want to give their kids more than they had personally growing up…like most parents desire. It’s not actually selfish intent, though it isn’t the best thing for their kids either.

Many parents who didn’t get to do extracurriculars will end up packing their own kids’ schedule to the brim to make up for what they personally lost in childhood. Parents who couldn’t afford new clothes will often over indulge their own children with the latest fashions and accessories, though in actually it might create selfish, superficial children.

Situations like this might look like the mom and dad doing without in order to give their son or daughter ‘extra.’ It might mean the parents take on an extra job to pay for the son’s tutoring or soccer camp or for the parents to thwart having personal hobbies or friendships because they spend all their available time on their son’s hobbies and interests.

Your Son Vs My Son Parenting Problem

One accompanying issue with living vicariously is that it often pits parents against each other. There becomes a ‘your son’ versus ‘my son’ mentality.

Parents living vicariously have a ‘your son’ versus ‘my son’ way of parenting, and this is not good for family dynamics. These parents act more like their kid’s friend rather than his or her mom and dad. And then they compete with each other or even their child, resulting in a family divided.

Your Son Vs My son means the family is no longer a united unit.

For the family to be healthy, they need to work together. Moms and dads must lead the family as a united partnership, each in his and her own role. There should not be any competitiveness and kids should not see parents divided.

Sometimes parents will say ‘your son’ when the son is in trouble or does something contrary to the parents’ wishes. Then these same parents will say ‘my son’ when he succeeds or does something the parents are proud of. Regardless of the reasoning, it’s not good for the son, nor the parents, and should be stopped.

If you find yourself or your spouse doing this, the best thing to do is discuss it as soon as possible. Now, it doesn’t mean you should call your spouse out in front of your child. Absolutely not! Any discussions of disagreement or ‘mature’ issues should be done outside of children’s hearing.

Once you can, talk about the issue. And make a concerted effort to stop that kind of talk in its tracks. As Barney Fife of The Andy Griffith Show was prone to say, ‘Nip it in the bud!’

Parents Who Compete With Their Sons

Narcissistic parents don’t support their children, and often compete with their children to ‘one up them.’

Sometimes parents who have a ‘your son’ versus ‘my son’ mentality actually compete with their sons (and/or daughters). These parents are what’s known as narcissistic. But they also tend to live vicariously through their need to control tendencies.

Parents often push their kids to do things that the parents like, and then compete with them over it.

For example, you might see some dads who excelled in football or basketball push their sons into the same sport and then want to play them to the point of their child losing, over and over- seemingly to ‘get them better’ but really, it just makes the dads relive their sports ‘glory days.’

However, there are also cases where parents end up competing with their kids unintentionally.

In the show, Life Is Us, there’s a competitive nature to the mom and daughter, Kate. While this isn’t specifically about parents and sons, it still is an example of parents competing with their kids, in this case, unintentionally.

In the popular TV show, Life Is Us, there’s a parent-child rivalry between mom Rebecca and daughter Kate.

Parents Who Compete For Their Son’s Attention

Parents who live vicariously also end up competing for their son’s attention and affection in most cases.

Because they aren’t fulfilling their parental role appropriately, they end up in a friend role with their child. As friends to their sons, then, they compete to be the ‘best friend’ and get his attention and approval (i.e. ‘love’).

You might be competing if you try to be the ‘fun’ parent and leave discipline up to your spouse. You might be competing as parents if you’re afraid to say ‘no’ to him for fear of being the bad guy and not having his love more than the other.

Parents must be partners and put their selfish desires aside in order to be parent their child healthfully.

And to be good parents you both need to tell your son or daughter ‘no’ sometimes (a lot of times, depending on the child!). It’s best for you, for your son/daughter, and for your family.

The Takeaway for Parental Rivalries and Living Vicariously

The takeaway about parental rivalries and living vicariously is that it should be avoided at all costs!

  • When parents try to live vicariously through their sons and daughters, it’s out of selfishness. Even if they ‘want the best for their child’ and do it for that reason, the focus is still on the parent’s desire.
  • Parents who live vicariously also end up with a divided family. They tend to a ‘your son’ versus ‘my son’ mentality and compete either for their child’s attention or with their child! Neither is beneficial for the family dynamics.

As parents, there’s nothing more important in your role than the well-being of your child. While this doesn’t mean always saying ‘yes’ or indulging them, it does mean that parents should work together to raise their sons and daughters, and each have their own life in the process!

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