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Your Child, Your Self

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Expectations vs. Reality

If you're a girlie girl, chances are you've been picturing weekly mother-daughter mall excursions followed by mani-pedis. Or if you're a bookworm, perhaps you've envisioned long talks about Shakespeare plays with your high-school-age son. Whether consciously or subconsciously, we all have at least some expectations that our child will mirror ourselves.

But as our children grow and their personalities emerge, reality often diverges from fantasy. "We think our kid is going to be an extension of ourselves, but at some point he or she becomes a unique person with a separate view of the world," says Michael Bradley, EdD, a psychologist for teens and families in Feasterville, Pennsylvania, and author of Heart and Soul of the Next Generation (Harbor Press). And when those dreams are dashed, it can be disconcerting.

Dealing with Disappointment

When Jennifer Twiggs, 43, of Charlotte, North Carolina, was a kid, she went out for every sport. "If there wasn't a girls' team, I would just play on the boys'," she says. Jennifer couldn't hide her dismay when her 14-year-old daughter, Julianna, chose cheerleading. "I'm trying to be supportive. I went to the first game to watch her cheer -- but it's really hard for me to be cool about her jumping around behind the boys in a tiny outfit."

According to Fleming, it's good to own up to your emotions. "When you're in touch with how you're feeling, you won't just react from the gut," she says. In other words, you'll be able to deal logically, instead of emotionally. That helps you figure out what's behind the misgivings. And if you're afraid you can't bond, fear not. "I don't know any parents who can't relate to their kid on some level," says Geraldine Kerr, a marriage and family therapist in Morristown, New Jersey. "It's really a matter of being willing to connect where the child wants to," she says. In fact, your son's different interests may give you new options for conversation. He loves soccer and you're clueless about the game? Go to a match and pay attention while he gives you a play-by-play. In other words, spend time in his world and let him show you the lay of the land.

Just keep in mind, you may end up feeling inadequate if your daughter's a science whiz and your knowledge of Saturn stops at "midsize sedan." For the first time, you're no longer omniscient, and it's unnerving to feel you don't possess the tools to help your child. "We all need to feel competent in our jobs, so this sets off self-esteem issues in many parents," says Fleming. But you can still help your daughter with her schoolwork by showing her how to look up information on the Web -- you're providing parental supervision and learning right alongside her. Sit and talk with her as she works through her homework. You'll get a sense of what she's good at, and by explaining it to you, she'll get a better grasp on the concepts.