Adoption—Parents who live vicariously

Vicariousness is a social phenomenon whereby a parent attempts to live out their own goals and accomplishments by chasing lost dreams and failed careers through their offspring. Living vicariously is a psychological form of possessiveness whereby an adult acts to persuade a child to participate in activities in which they aren’t particularly interested. This form of parental behavior is particularly evident in staged events, concerts, and beauty pageants, and is most obvious in the bleachers of children’s sporting events.

Judith Land | Adoption Detective | Vicarious

“Vicariousness is feelings enjoyed through the imagined participation in the experience of others, especially children. Some parents who live vicariously become angry and upset if their child doesn’t succeed or embarrasses them; feelings of shame and guilt that are intensified when the child is not aware of how embarrassing their performance and behavior is, especially if the parent has the dream of profiting financially from the earnings of the child.” Judith Land

Most parents have a natural tendency to encourage and project their own desires onto their children based on their own personal life experiences. They dream and fantasize now and then about all the wonderful things their children will do when they grow up. They conscientiously want to avoid seeing opportunities for positive accomplishments; educational experiences, character building events, and learning opportunities slip away. There are positive aspects to parental supervision of children’s activities but when participation becomes overindulgent, imprudent, and unrestrained, and the child is coerced into following the paths that the parents choose for them, there’s a risk to the child’s natural maturation process.

When an adolescent is overly dependent on the approval of parents they tend to remain in a state of perpetual childhood and suspended adolescence. The child has no way of developing their own distinct identity, becoming self-sufficient, and deciding what is best for themselves when their participation in an activity becomes excessive and entirely parent-driven. The child who fails to live up to the parent’s expectations may experience shame and guilt, low self-esteem and feelings they aren’t good enough, smart enough, or worthy enough for their parents to care about them. The experience of failing to meet the parents’ expectations may degrade the child’s ambition and slowly erode confidence in their own abilities. They may have difficulty developing their own goals and inner vision and things don’t always end well for them—for these reasons, beware of the parent who vicariously chases lost dreams and failed careers through the emotional risk and consequence of their adopted child.

Judith Land


Adoption Detective

children | parenting | relationships | adoption


About Judith Land

Judith Land lives in Colorado and Arizona with husband and coauthor Martin Land. Judith is a former nurse, retail shop owner, college instructor and avid outdoor person. Her book "Adoption Detective: Memoir of an Adopted Child" is a true story detailing the journey of Judith Romano, foster child and adoptee, as she discovers fragments of her background, and then sets out to solve the mystery as an adult. She has reached readers in 192 countries. "Mothers and fathers everywhere in the world need to understand that children are forever and always." --Judith Land
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