We Become the Opposite of Our Parents

“The road to success is uphill, unless your father owns the business.”

I think it was 1987. My dad had taped a notecard with this handwritten quote on the dashboard of his new pickup truck. I was too young and naive to understand the meaning(s) inherent to the quote, but it is still a vivid memory of mine today. I’m not entirely sure why. Around that time, my grandfather was beginning the process of transferring ownership of his business to my father.

Fast forward 30-plus years and my family still owns the landscaping, lawn maintenance and snowplowing business in West Michigan. I’m sure my father doesn’t own that truck anymore, but I wonder if he kept the notecard. The passage of time has a funny way of bringing the life lessons we’re meant to learn full circle. My father recently turned 65 and is actively considering how he transfers the business to my sister and her husband.

I sincerely hope he remembers his late 1980’s notecard and the feelings that triggered him to create it.

As difficult as the business transition may have been for him then, I sincerely hope he’s learned his lesson and facilitates the transition of his business to my sister far less emotionally, more simple legally and seamless financially now.

For some reason, many of my clients are experiencing disconnections from their children. Some physical. Some emotional. Some spiritual. They’re all unique, but they have common themes.

Western societies place distinct pressures on parents to drive their children to perform at high levels in school, sports, events and other areas of life to maintain a societal perception, appearance or image. I’ve watched parents use their child’s success as an attempt to maintain their own stature in a friend group or community. This seems silly to me. What happened to the parent’s confidence that he is unable to gain acceptance based on the content of his character, accomplishments or how he adds value to the community? Time and time again, I’ve watched parents (who lack confidence) force their child’s material or societal success and attempt to make the child the idealized version of what the parent never was.

The content of the son or daughter’s character is suppressed.

For example, during her childhood, a mother had limited access to the world outside her small town and didn’t get to try new hobbies, activities or sports often. When she had a daughter, she begins living vicariously through the daughter and forces her to try as many new things as possible… even though the daughter doesn’t desire to try the activities. The activities likely don’t align with the daughter’s life’s mission.

Or, a father was a star baseball player, but he wasn’t good enough to play college ball, so he signs his son up for little league, encourages him to play in high school and chooses a college for him to attend. The son is disinterested, but he doesn’t want to let his family down, so he plays college ball. The father, perhaps unwittingly, dumped his shortcomings on his son and attempted to live vicariously through him.

As time passes, the child begins to build a life of her own separate from the parent’s expectations. She breaks free from the helicopter parenting. She breaks free from the suffocation of what makes her unique, authentic and happy. She begins developing parts of herself that are the opposite of the parents.

I work with a client whose parents fell out of her life during high school. She now uses education as a tool to empower teenagers. Another client was abused by her family. She is now a mom who volunteers at local battered women’s shelters. Yet another client wasn’t taught basic economic principles by his parents. He’s now a CFO who volunteers with nonprofits who teach self sufficiency.

I’ve got hundreds of stories like these.

Remember, be the person you needed when you were younger. It’s your life’s most meaningful work.

If you’re a parent, please consider how difficult it will be to your child if you continually apply pressure to him to make him something he isn’t or isn’t meant to be. This drives him to want to become the opposite of you. If you’re doing it right, your child is your #1 teacher. I encourage you to pay homage to his being and what he teaches you about yourself. Recognize his sovereignty. Forget about what society says is right or wrong. Do what’s right for his wellness.

In my world, and I hope yours too, the road to success is uphill if you teach your children to become the most authentic versions of themselves (and not younger versions of you) at the same time as allowing them to reverse mentor you about keys that unlock your potential.

You don’t need a notecard taped to your dashboard to ensure this happens.