A while ago I spoke to someone who was in the middle of the process of choosing a school for his child, who was almost 4 years old at the time. I can clearly remember the time when we were in the middle of that exact same process, and I remember experiencing it as very difficult and complex. How on earth could we choose the criteria? What school fitted my child’s needs best? At which school would she feel most at home and achieve the best schooling? Which values were instilled by which school? Did we recognise these values in our own parenting?
Questions like these seemed very logical. The gentleman I spoke to did not even think of such questions. To him, only one thing mattered. Because he had attented a Montessori school himself when he was a child and disliked it very much, his own child would never attend a Montessori school. Not in a million years! He was willing to discuss any other school, as long as it was not a Montessori school.
I was really shocked hearing him say this. How could anyone make such an important decision for someone else, in this case his very own child? How could he know how his child would experience attending a Montessori school? And base a very huge decision on that assumption? He might even deprive his child of a valuable experience.
Unfortunately, I often see behaviour like this.
Years ago, someone ‘advised’ me to read a certain book. According to her, this book was the best book ever written. It made me curious and I wanted to read it myself. After I struggled through the first ten pages, I decided this was not the book for me. I had to acknowledge this was a waste of time.
At some point, someone ‘advised’ me to become a financial planner. In his view, this was without a doubt the best possible professional role on earth. The words ‘best possible professional role’ caught my attention. Not in the least because at the time I was searching for an alternative professional direction. So I became a financial planner for a while. Not very long after I had finished the necessary degrees, I discovered that I really enjoyed the personal interaction with my clients, but the continuous whining about ‘more profit’ ‘more interest’ and ‘less costs’ was unbearable to me.
What on earth is the matter here?
Don’t these people give their heartfelt advice? Or at least try to protect others or their own children from making unnecessary mistakes? This is all true, but even though it comes from the heart, it cannot be called an advice. On the contrary, these people ‘project’. They project their own pleasure, needs or inspiration on someone else and simply assume others will have the same experience. In fact, they may be right that others have the very same experience as they do, but chances are that this is not true at all. I see behaviour like this very often and even though I am quite aware of this phenomenon myself, I still need to stay alert, because projecting could even enter my own parenting.
Why did I buy wonderful warm skiing gloves for my child? Because I can clearly remember the time when I was a child and had terrible cold hands.
Why did I propose music lessons for my child? From experience I knew how good it felt when people were jealous because most of them did not know how to play music and I did.
The moment I become aware of my own projections, I think about it for a while and decide whether I’m trying to satisfy my own needs or my child’s needs.
Telling your child that it needs to put on a scarf because you are feeling cold yourself is quite harmless. But how do you feel about parents pushing their children into a certain direction (e.g. sports) simply because the parents have always wanted to do that themselves but did not get the opportunity or did not have the talent?
It is very important to me that my child is allowed to become the person she is meant to be. Therefore I try to stay away from projective behaviour as far as I possibly can.
At the same time, I am human and I sometimes feel the urge to say something which originates from my own needs. The moment I become aware of my own projection, I come up with a message in I-language, so my child can decide for herself whether she wants to listen to it or not. Something similar to: “When I was a child, I did not like to read at all, but I did love to read those Donald Duck-magazines. And to be honest, I still like to read them.” I soon discovered how this remark inspired my child.
Christmas is coming up soon and on top of her wishlist is a Donald Duck calender, along with a Donald Duck blanket cover. Before I turn off the lights, she usually reads in bed. Her favourite thing to read? A huge pile of Donald Duck magazines 😀