Anyone who is a parent has felt the psychological tension that exists between the dreams we have for our children and watching them develop their own capacity to dream life forward. The perceptions we bring from our own childhood experience, those good and bad experiences that link our past memories to the present moment, can either act as a barrier, or open doors to the experiences we wish to expose our children to, which, in turn, greatly affects the future direction our children choose to engage. Barrier, or doorway to healthy development, we as parents are a driving force behind our children physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual health. By providing them the needed experiences that underlie the memories they take with them to become healthy adults, we stand as the foundation from which our children’s dreams can emerge.
Childhood is a time of perspectives. Like a looking glass, that can see distant objects as if from close range, childhood is a metaphorical receptacle that gazes distantly upon adult life from a perspective of reverie of current dreams. From an adult perspective, looking back on childhood, we are given the opportunity to reflect upon the good and the bad experiences our own childhood provided us as we strove forward to welcome and engage adult life. In a way, childhood provides us a mirror from which to view and ameliorate our own past trauma, especially as it relates to our newly acquired parenting duties. As parents, we tend to repeat experiences and lessons we hold dear to our heart with our children while we secondarily strive to shelter our children from the adverse experiences and lessons that afflicted our lives. These experiences, good or bad, are expressions of our own personal experience, are mirrored reflections of the way we parent, and act as a driving force behind our our adult developmental journey to raise the next generation in a loving and healthy manner.
Through the looking-glass we dream, seeing our children’s future unfold in a journey that is delicately interwoven with our own, learning as we teach, teaching as we learn. Yet somehow, despite the hardships, we chug along, despite those unknown fears that lie hidden in the realm just beyond that which can be perceived by our physical senses. It is in this territory, that fears are engaged, and become the passion that underlies the dynamic growth possible when we as parents learn to simply let go, face the fear present, and begin to turn situations into solutions. It is within this environment that we strive to provide a “good enough” example of our parenting capacities, which, in turn will foster our children’s development of self esteem, self worth, and provide them the necessary stimuli needed to assure them a healthy beginning. Through the looking-glass we dream, but this dream is not stagnant; for it is through this process, that we teach the next generation the ability to dream life forward, chart the course, plan, implement, and receive the bountiful gifts life can afford us, if we only dare to dream, and take action towards the pathways it opens.
How then, with all of the chaos that oftentimes surrounds us, can we encourage our children to focus on their dreams? How can we teach them to amplify their strengths, while working on ways to accept and mitigate the effects their perceived weaknesses have on their emergent psyche, as a means to show them that their dreams can become reality through hard work? How can we lead them to move beyond those self-perceived weaknesses and find the apparent strengths we see present, but they have yet to tap into? How can we evoke and encourage those strengths to emerge from our children and take center stage within an educational system and social setting that at times discourages them from the benefits dreaming brings to fruition? In this article, I explore these questions and the implications they have from an individual, familial, social, developmental and developmental perspective in order to show ways we can help children implement a plan of action that will help them develop the self-esteem needed to engage life in an effective way and become self-reliant, healthy, and productive citizens.
Coming into Consciousness
As parents, we stand in support to our children. We hold their hands and teach them the difference between right and wrong, good and bad, holy and evil, and the other paradoxes that form the basis of consciousness. Carl Jung stated:
“There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own Soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious” (Jung, n.d.)
Coming into consciousness is a mutual journey we share with our children. Like them, we strive to make sense of our own light as parents. Our development as adults is delicately intertwined with the lessons we teach our children to help them make sense of their inner and outer world, which in turn exposes them to the very experiences they will turn into memories, and subsequently pass on to their children in the future.
This is how the mutual story of our personal upbringing interacts with that of our children’s plight to become healthy adults. It is how their pain is inevitably felt as our own pain, their triumphs celebrated as our own, as we listen to the stories they share growing, teaching, and learning from the experiences shared. The brutal realities of bullying or being made fun of that seems to be an all too common experience for our nations youth, or the accomplishments and life celebrations our developmental journey opens to us, we experience our child’s journey through the same sense we experienced within our own childhood, eliciting empathic response to the very feelings we used to learn and navigate our own emotional landscape.
Fostering a Child’s Dreams from a Strength Based Perspective
As adults, it is our responsibility to help our children learn ways to work with and overcome areas of weakness. While some areas may be difficult to overcome, we can nevertheless help our children learn from and adapt to the areas that need work. While this would warrant a weakness based approach, as Jung had shown, strengths are often hidden within areas of perceived weakness, just as enlightenment cannot exist without first comping into contact with the dark. A strength based perspective is not one that discounts a child’s weaknesses. Instead, it assists them with methods to integrate these as a means to develop further strength from within. Only when we build our children’s strengths, while we teach them to work with and integrate their self-perceived areas of weakness, can they begin to build the self-esteem needed develop into fully independent adults.
As parents, we drive our children’s developmental journey. This is especially true as it relates to the dynamic growth each and every child is capable of achieving. To label, identify, and work from the perspective of a perceived weakness, not only reinforces the problematic traits we wish to ameliorate, but also cements within the personality a level of forced dependency. When this occurs, the strengths that are readily present in the child become overshadowed by a lifetime of reinforced mixed messages. Here, a child’s weaknesses become the litmus test by which the gauge their life. When this occurs, it sets a dangerous course for psychological development that cannot easily be overcome, thus sentencing them to a lifetime of perceived inadequacy.
As a child, how many times were you told, “no you can not do that” or “that is only make believe”? When did you begin to believe that? When did you begin to take it to heart?
While these are blatant examples of messages we oftentimes send our children, they are not far from the truth as it relates to the everyday experience they hear from adults who are supposed to be their helping agents. Ever dream of becoming a professional athlete? Were you told to have a back-up plan? Ever dream of becoming an actor, an artist, or had some other hidden desire, that you told to a trusting adult, and were told to have a “Plan B.” While sad, this is the nature of the message our children most often hear from adults. Children dream, and the possibilities of their dreams are endless. It is from the perspective of dreaming that we must engage our children, not from the perspective of developing a “Plan B.” A child’s dreams are real, perceived, and part of their developmental journey. It is not our job to sway their dreams, but to foster an accepting environment that assists them to become fully functioning, independent adults, that will be self-sustaining, and not dependent on others to help them solve the problems they will face.
When we tell a child to have a backup plan, we inadvertently reinforce a message that they are not capable of achieving their dreams. This inflicts a psychological wound to the child, sends the message that dreams are just manifestations of an imagination that will not come true in the first place, and delimits a child’s most sacred gift, an active imagination. This inflicts a psychological wound, and for children, the emotional pain of losing a dream is real, and will stand with them as a deterrent for healthy emotional and psychological development.
Childhood imagination, and the stories they dream of and tell are real to their forming psyche. Even their wildest stories have some truth, as it relates to their development. They strive to become adults, and to learn the ways of the world. By becoming conscious, they learn the difference of right and wrong, good and bad, strong and weak, night and day, A, B, C, D, and F (good grade and bad grade), boy and girl, normal versus abnormal, and they use these paradoxes to judge others as well as themselves. While they are meant as a means to differentiate, as anyone who has ever suffered the fall into consciousness will know, we inadvertently become our own harshest critic. From this perspective, how is it that our children perceive themselves during their developmental journey?
When a child develops conscious awareness, they begin the natural progression of differentiating their strengths and weaknesses in comparison with others. A child’s strengths are both a product of nature (genetics) and nurture (environment). They assimilate and acclimate to knowledge sources they are exposed to during their developmental years. Is a child who has an C in math versus an A in history, or a C in Science versus an A in music or English any less talented then a child that shows better grades in the opposite spectrum? Are they somehow less worthy because they do not fit within the mainstream box that educational and social pressures place upon them? Would children such as Mozart be ostracized, solely because they spent to much time dreaming within the beauty of the art they are so adept at creating? Should Mozart have been told, “no you are too young to learn the piano, you need to read first,” or Einstein been told “snap out of it and quit dreaming, you need to learn your three R’s (Reading, Writing, and arithmetic)?” Where would we be if this was the case?
In recent years, there seems to be a need to pigeonhole children into subject matter we have deemed fit for them to learn. Is there no longer a place for the arts, the humanities, civics, and those special things that make life more enjoyable in light of the cold, hard facts they are required to be exposed to daily in an educational forum. It is from this perspective that the rubber hits the road, and parents face a dilemma of working within a system that will only expose their children to a bare minimum of subject matter that is considered to meet social expectations and standards. It is here where parents must learn ways to help their children find and amplify their naturally based god-given talents, while learning ways to negate the effects their weaknesses may have on their emergent development.
What we can do as parents is simple. Encourage your children to dream, and to dream big. I speak about this from two levels. As a father, I cannot fathom my two sons being without a dream. From personal experience, I know that dreaming initiates the imagination, which in turn initiates creative energy. This energy, when put into action, creates the reality once perceived in the mind’s eye through a process of planning, implementing, working hard, persevering, and moving through the hurdles that can, and inevitably do get in the way of one’s vision becoming a reality. This is a realm where hard work makes things once figments of the imagination become reality, and teaches a work ethic towards successful endeavors. While the propensity to dream and work hard is a major aspect of a successful developmental sequence, it is not necessarily taught as a subject matter within our educational system.
As a mental health professional and a citizen of the world, I am greatly concerned by the lack of dreams I see in the next generation. This problem, although not a main point of current psychological research, can become catastrophic if not engaged and rectified. Sigmund Freud (1900) stated “Dreams are the royal road to the unconscious.” Carl Jung (1961) believed that
The dream is a little hidden door in the innermost and most secret recesses of the soul, opening into that cosmic night which was psyche long before there was any ego-consciousness, and which will remain psyche no matter how far our ego-consciousness extends.
Dreams take us to the inner recesses of our soul, or those secret places that our consciousness dare not traverse. Either way, dreams heal the psyche through a metaphorical language that allows us to make conscious sense of those hidden caverns that only our unconscious mind knows and understands. Through this process, we begin to find ways to heal inner division readily apparent in the paradox, find equilibrium within, and subsequently heal the external divisions from which we pass judgement upon ourselves.
The Social Problem
When we lack the imagination to dream, we lack the imagination to heal. Furthermore, when we lack the capacity to dream, we lack the drive needed to engage life stresses as a source to be overcome. Work without direction is monotonous. Direction without a dream is endless. It is the dream that gives us direction, and without direction, work falters into those dark recesses of monotony that keeps us unconscious, or even worse, not engaged. Maybe it is this phenomenon that stands as the undercurrent of the major social woes and divisions our country currently faces.
The inability to see hope, dream, and make dreams come true is not just a problem for people that may suffer from psychological illness. This phenomenon affects our children, who in all essence, should be dreaming their life forward in big proportions, affects adults, who’s developmental journey is to make sense of the lifespan unfolding, healthy, and unhealthy individuals alike. This phenomenon mirrors hopelessness, and has become the norm by which one generation’s incapacity to dream life forward in a productive manner has become the next generation’s sense of hopelessness and inability to escape the quandaries they have inherited. Just look at the current political climate if you need evidence of this phenomenon, whether it be in the failing school systems, the failing social policies, the continued division present in our nation, or the outright dependency adult children have on their parents to assure their creature comforts in life, America lacks a capacity to dream, lacks direction, and even worse, is sinking deep within the recesses of once unconscious attitudes that are now being brought to the forefront of our social policies. While there may be many social problems present, it is through the act of dreaming, that we can begin to engage the subconscious mind towards activation, stir up the conscious mind to find solutions to the problems we face, and open the doors to a general sense of hope for things good things to come.
By dreaming, we then open the door for opportunity through lived action. While dreaming is an imperative step to produce the picture of a final outcome, a goal, or a direction, it is only through lived action that we can begin to impart upon the next generation that dreams become reality through hard work. While a dependent populace is a major problem in today’s socioeconomic politcal climate, its amelioration will only be seen once strengths are focused upon and amplified, not weaknesses. By shifting our conscious attitude and behaviors towards helping people work within their strengths versus amplifying the weaknesses, we set social expectations that allow a person to realize, there is no free ride in life. With this shift, we encourage people to begin dreaming and attaining those dreams, all while we focus on helping them to acquire skills of determination and hard work, so one day, they can achieve and even grow from the dreams they wish to engage. By primarily focusing on weaknesses that are present, we enable people to forced dependency, exposing them only to a life of servitude where the impossible is just that. By denying one the capacity to dream and the skills needed to attain those dreams, it is a travesty to both the ideal of the American Dream and the rights granted to us by the Constitution of the United States.
A Parental Solution
As parents, it is our duty to be standard bearers for our children’s dreams. While they may seem impossible, improbable, or even downright fantasy at times, remember that only 40 years ago the idea of a hand held devise capable of bridging communication between earth and space was a figment of a dreamer’s imagination. Back then, Raymond Bradbury dreamed of a communicator, a device used by Mr. Spock to be beamed back up to the Starship Enterprise, keeping him and Captain Kirk in communication with one another while they explored the uncharted recesses of space. Now, smart phones, each and every one more powerful than the computing software that sent the astronauts to the moon, keep our global community in communication with one another, through the ether of what was once only a dream. We now have the capacity to communicate and be educated on an unheard of scale, but seem to use this technology as a means to keep ourselves unconscious versus conscious.
The journey starts with each and every parent. It is our duty to encourage our children’s capacity to dream. School systems are not set up to do this. In fact, they discourage dreaming as a waste of time. While this may stand in contradiction to the messages we as parents send our children, it is through us that their most valuable life lessons are imparted in the first place. By encouraging our children to dream, we set the stage for them to identify direction, think from a future perspective, and begin to learn the needed skills of planning necessary to foster those dreams to become reality. This in turn stands as a foundation for thinking from a present perspective, which must then be geared to teach the lessons of hard work, equanimity, and teamwork needed to help people work through the very problems that stand in the way of those dreams becoming a reality.
Dreams are our capacity to heal. They also stand as our capacity to make life more exciting and engaged by providing us direction. Our children’s capacity to dream is the foundation from which we can begin to move our country towards healing, bridge the gap of division present, and overcome the obstacles we have inadvertantly placed in the way of their future. Isn’t it time to bet on their futures, instead of our own?
Freud, Sigmund. (1900). Interpretation of dreams. Standard Edition, 5.
Jung, C.G. (n.d.). There is no coming to consciousness without pain. Retrieved, 11 April, 2017 from http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/549821-there-is-no-coming-to-consciousness-without-pain-people-will
Jung, C.G. (1961). Memories, dreams, reflections. Jaffe, A (ed.). New York. Vintage Books.