Are You Living Through Your Kids?

Are you living through your kids to fill a void in yourself? Learn how to find your own meaning and stop relying on your kids to feel happy.

Living Through Your KidsMy first grader was going to receive an award at school for doing well in reading. This was his moment, his chance to be recognized for his hard work and love of learning.

Except there I was, fighting a selfish urge to take some of that credit, too. As if my child’s accomplishments should be a direct reflection of the kind of parent I was. I wanted to stand there so everyone knew I was the parent of the kid who just received an award.

It was then that I realized that we parents can often make the mistake of living through our kids, particularly in two ways.

The first is relishing in their successes, where we might even push them toward certain areas for glory and prestige.

And the second is relying solely on our kids—or on being a parent—for our happiness, identity, and unfulfilled ambitions.

Let’s dig into both of these. Hopefully, you can find some insights, as this parent had:

“Wonderfully written. You articulated what I’ve always felt and brought clairvoyance to a bothered feeling I get from a lot of parents when they talk about their children, but never really understood why until now.” -Robbie

Living through your kids for the praise

Behind the pride and joy many of us feel about our kids often lies the urge the take credit for their accomplishments.

Whether it’s through school, a sports game, or even their personalities, we want to be there to reap the praise. We want them to succeed not only for their best interests but to feel that success ourselves. We could wear a badge of honor when we share how well they scored or which milestones they achieved early.

The problem is, finding meaning in our kids makes our own lives meaningless. After all, we’re separate people from them. They’ll find their own goals and paths, sometimes far from anything we expected. We can’t turn to them to define who we are.

Pushing them to succeed so we can feel good about ourselves isn’t the way to go. Parenting isn’t a competition or our children the pawns we use to play. Let their successes and failures be more about them than about us.

And yes, much of their success does rely on our support. They win awards and trophies because we instilled good habits, the right environment, and guidance through the process.

But these are their achievements, not ours. I’d like to think that they would still shine regardless of the role we play. And that all the effort we put into raising them isn’t so that we can get a pat on the back or raise our self-esteem.

Living through your kids for your happiness

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Another way we live through our kids is by revolving our lives—including our happiness—around theirs. We can’t make them a reflection of us or expect them to follow our own hobbies or expectations. And we shouldn’t forget who we are and define ourselves solely as being a parent.

They’re not born to complete our lives—they were born to live out their own.

For instance, does your social life revolves around your child’s extracurricular activities? Do you devote every weekend to visiting children’s museums, art classes, or basketball games?

Participating in your child’s activities isn’t  terrible—it adds a positive aspect to family life. The trouble happens when we rely only on these activities to the point where we wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves without them.

If you feel a void in your life, look within and solve it apart from your kids. Focus on building your hobbies and interests without turning to them to fill that hole. Don’t rely on them to define who you are or fulfill your own needs.

As Madeline Levine said in Teach Your Children Well:

“We hunker down and immerse ourselves in our children’s activities at the expense of our adult relationships and our own continued development. Decreasing the sphere of our own lives makes us increasingly dependent on our children for a sense of meaning and accomplishment.”

Imagine your kids going away on a week-long camp. Yes, you’ll miss them, but will that time leave you energized and excited, or anxious about what to do with that time?

They need to know you’ll be okay even when they’re not around. That they can grow up without you crumbling or wondering what to do with yourself. Focus on a healthy parent-child relationship that doesn’t depend solely on each other.

For instance, imagine them as grown adults. They’ve moved out of the house, maybe even out of state. They may not even want to be parents themselves, so you can’t fill the grandmother role, either. What will your days be like now that they’re gone?

Think about the life you had before being a parent. Can you rekindle those interests, from small habits like walking every day to larger goals like starting your own business?

Your biggest role right now is to be a parent, but that doesn’t have to be your only role, either.


Living through our kids, whether through their successes or interests, is dangerous territory and an unrealistic ideal of parenthood. We put tremendous pressure on them to excel for our purposes or impose our own dreams to live vicariously through their lives.

In both cases, we depend so much on them for our happiness and meaning.

But this isn’t the way to go. Remember, your kids are not a reflection of your worth. As long as you feel like your life lacks something, you risk using them to fill that void. And as you can imagine, this scenario is a burden too heavy for them to bear.

I’ll admit: I felt pretty happy when my son received his award, cheering loudly when his name was called. But I also learned that I don’t need his academic performance or top honors to define who I am or to enjoy my own life. That’s within me, no matter what.

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  1. Wonderfully written. You articulated what I’ve always felt and brought clairvoyance to a bothered feeling I get from a lot of parents when they talk about their children, but never really understood why until now.

    Thank you.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Thank you, Robbie! I’m so glad the article resonated with you.