4 Ways Parents Put Their Identity on Their Kids' Shoulders

By Janis Meredith | Posted 3/22/2021

Are you unintentionally putting a heavy burden on your young athlete?

It is very normal for sports parents to try to get their identity from their children and also a very hard thing to fight. In fact, most parents fall into this trap one way or another at some point.

It is a crushing burden for your young athlete to have to get up every morning and carry the weight of your identity and meaning and purpose in life on their shoulders. No child can carry that load well.

However, don’t be too hard on yourself; it’s human nature to look for identity and security in places where it cannot be found. Because parental love is so strong, it’s easy for parents to get much of their meaning and purpose from their kids.

We let their emotional roller coaster become our up-and-down ride too. We need them to be successful to make us feel good about our parenting.

We need their love and respect in order to feel good about our lives. We need them to look, dress, and act a certain way so that we feel we’ve done a good job in our parenting.

It’s not just about loving your kids unconditionally and fully; it’s about needing them to make us feel good about ourselves.

How do you know if you are putting your identity on your kids’ shoulders?

According to Paul David Tripp in his book, Parenting, these are the signs:

You focus too much on their success. Could it be that you want your children to succeed so much in school, sports, or whatever they are doing because you need them to succeed?

You focus too much on your reputation. God didn’t give you your children to build your reputation. Maybe you’re too worried of what others think of your children and want those little humans to bolster others’ opinions of you.

You have a desire for too much control. If you need your kids to enhance your reputation because that gives you a sense of identity, then I’m pretty sure that will lead you to try to control situations and people to make sure that happens. This is seen a lot in the youth sports world. It’s one thing to be a parent that is truly doing what’s best for their kids and another to be so controlling that you hinder your child’s personal growth.

You are tempted to make things personal. When you need your kids to look good so that you look good, you will personalize what is not really personal. For instance, your child leaves their clothes thrown around on their bedroom floor and you walk in and say, “After all the money I spent on you for clothes and all that I do for you, this is how you behave?”

Logically, your child is not being messy to attack you personally; they are just being kids. But parents often make it personal.

It’s an exhausting way to live.

Parents, this is an exhausting way to live. It’s tiring to need children to perform well in order for you to feel good about yourself and your life.

It’s exhausting to chase success after success, never fully being satisfied. It’s discouraging to feed off the love of someone too immature to give it to you faithfully. It’s discouraging to personalize your children’s failures as if they were intentionally plotting against you. It’s exhausting to load your schedule with activity after activity until you have little free time left because you need your children to succeed….As your children get older, they begin to realize that much of what you have been doing has not been for them, but for yourself. (Parenting)

Your kids cannot be your own personal saviors. This is a burden they will not bear well. They should not be playing sports just because YOU want them to.

The antidote to that is to love your kids unconditionally, and yes, that sometimes means you must sacrifice your own time and space. But there is a difference between loving your kids wholly and needing them to make you feel good about your life. If that is where you find yourself headed, it’s time to look for ways to be a parent who continues their own personal growth, even while the kids are still home. You are still YOU, and when your kids are grown and gone to live their own lives, you will still be YOU, or you will be a parent who’s not sure who they are because their identity is no longer living at home.

Janis Meredith is a family life coach who wants to help parents raise champions. You can find out more at rcfamilies.com.