In Recognizing the Uncommon Mind we discussed dreams and their associated value in living:

You’re right about dreaming. It is important for children. When those dreams reach beyond the family dynamic, however, those very dreams become dangerous.

One of my favorite assignments for my new writing students is a research project involving their parents.


The assignment is easy. The completion is tough.
I have my students ask their parents about their dreams — the wishing
kind, not the sleeping kind. Many students have never bothered to ask
their parents about their dreams and when they do, the parents are
always surprised, but happy, to answer the question.

The parents’ dreams rarely frame that current conversation or the
greater overall context of their lives.
The students come away from that assignment surprised and bewildered
their parents actually have dreams and how detailed the dreams are when
described aloud.
What are your parents’ dreams?

Are dreams only the domain of the young; or are dreaming and wishing
and wanting a natural expectation of coping in the human cycle of
living?
Is dreaming dangerous in the urban core where children and parents are
stuck in a cycle of generational poverty from which many cannot escape
unless they shatter the law to confound reality and keep the dreams
alive?
Have our modern dreams become entitlements from which only the wealthy
and the established may partake?

Do we own our dreams? Or do we merely live out the expectations of
others?
What are your dreams?

30 Comments

  1. I think dreams are part of being human. I also think that people get beaten down and try to forget their dreams, or try not to have dreams because they have been so hurt or disappointed. Have you read “A Dream Deferred” by Langston Hughes recently?
    Some people’s dreams are what is expected of them by their families, by “society,” by tradition.
    One thing I have strived for throughout my life is to have my own dreams, to not live out the expectations of others. I grew up in poverty and swore that I would not live that way. I decided when I was 10. It was also extremely difficult for me to be raised in a very traditional household, being a girl and all that is involved in traditional expectations of gender. I could not wait to be 18, and of course was completely ostracized from my family, including extended family, at that time. It is a difficult choice. It is also a dangerous choice because others try to enforce/reinforce the cultural expectations, sometimes through physical violence.

  2. What is your cultural and ethnic background, Antoinette, and where did you grow up?
    I know in some circles in the urban core – just the to hope to get out — is seen as disrespectful to the community and the punishment can be ostracism or even violence in order to keep that person down. The philosophy seems to be: No one here gets out, and if they try, they die doing it.

  3. Why do people always say that? All parents do not want better for their children. Children can be many things: laborers, unintented or unwanted consequences, the result of living others’ expectations, fulfillers of a need for power because of their dependency, a display of status, a vessel for unfulfilled dreams.

  4. Dave —
    Right, the original idea of today’s post is asking your parents about their dreams and how those dreams are either passed along or not.
    I think you need to read Elijah Anderson and his definition of “decent” to understand it in his specific context.
    You also seem to have a Pollyanna view of the ghetto and the urban core and those who live there.

  5. Dave —
    When there are only so many resources in the ghetto or in the urban core — there is great competition for dreams and assets and privileges — and I know a lot of parents and children who compete with each other for those chits and many times the parents sabotage the “dreams” of their children: “If I’m staying here, you’re staying here with me.”
    It is, in my experience, a rarity to find a truly a selfless parent anywhere who is willing to push the child out of the city and into a better life – and then stay behind with the shards of their own broken dreams that their parents could not help them realize.

  6. Parents’ dreams and hopes for their children can be limited by their own parameters. For some that could be happiness within what they consider to be appropriate religious and/or cultural context – not necessarily what would constitute happiness for the individual child. I think that is quite common.

  7. I think our hopes and dreams are part of what makes us who we are. There are those of us who have hoped and dreamed since childhood to be in a certain profession, or career, and thanks to never losing sight of their goals, and with grit and determination, they’ve made it.
    Some of us however, have hopes and dreams, but don’t seem to realize that with the right attitude and focus, they too can achieve all they want to.
    There are, sadly, parents who believe that they know what is best for their child, and try to push said child into what they, the parents, think they should do. I’ve heard of a lot of Athletes, whose parents try to “live again” through their child after a bad injury forced them to retire. It’s a sad fact of life that these children don’t seem to be “allowed” to have a mind of their own, and their own dreams and aspirations.
    As we grow and change, so our dreams, hopes and aspirations change with us. It’s all a part of the growing process, and it’s a part of life. We are who we are. Wel all have our own hopes and dreams, they’re what make us all unique and individual and different from the next person.

  8. Most people in America have the same dreams for the children, no matter where they live.
    Most people want their children to grow up to be successful and happy. They want their kids to have more than they did — a better life.
    Sometimes people have problems transferring this dream to their children and therefore let them and society down by their failures to properly nurture their offspring.
    Sometimes the pressures of life cause parents to stop being supportive. Long work hours or multiple jobs can be a cause. Other times, addictions cause parenting failures that lead to the death of dreams for a better future. Ghosts from past abuse or neglect can rear their ugly heads and sidetrack parents with good intentions when they repeat the mistakes of their parents.
    These disfunctions often cause the serious problems that plague the urban core.
    It’s a very few that cause many problems for everyone else.
    Unfortunately, the dreams of many can be shattered by the actions of a few.
    From NWITimes.com this morning:

    GARY | On the night of his sister’s graduation, Tywon Newsome, 21, died over a three-year-long feud about a woman, police say.
    Lake County prosecutors on Wednesday charged Gary brothers Evan Eskew, 21, and Isaiah Eskew, 18, both of 7911 Locust Ave., with murder and possession of a gun on school property.

    Despite all of this, people will continue to dream of a better life in the urban core.

  9. Some people just don’t care. They are living their own lives and children just come as part of the package deal of following pre-set expectations. Wanting more seems to some parents that the child is negating or perhaps looking down at their life and their choices.
    With regard to my comment above, in addition to the comment that Dawn added about athletes, consider some parameters. This parent may want happiness for their child but only within the context of what they consider to be the appropriate choices. In my family, for girls, that is an early marriage (18- 20) and immediate children – with a person of the same race and religion and within the religious community (i.e., attending services, religious wedding, church activities). Any choices outside of that are undeserving of happiness. Any misfortunes that befall are due to the child’s “poor choice” – not because they are left with no money, no education, no food or shelter when the parents kick them out at 18 for wanting something different. Is that wanting happiness for your child? To never contact them or permit contact, to not care if they are beaten, raped, robbed, sleeping on floors of people they barely know – because they dream of other roads in life? Did my parents wish for my happiness? Yes, I am sure they did – if it was within their parameters: to be married at 19 to a man of their choosing, if I bore children right away, if I followed their religion. Outside of that, the child is not part of their concern and they go on to other children who “deserve” happiness. Obviously, some parents get beyond their dislike of some of their children’s choices and still want the best for their child. But some do not.
    Perhaps this is unusual in the US. News from other areas of the world lead me to believe that this is not unusual everywhere, at least for women. Yes, I was born and raised in the US, as were my parents.

  10. Hi Dawn!
    Thanks for the comment and I like it how you argue dreams change and grow with us. Some dreams are forever and others are of-the-moment.
    The dreams of the parent, when pressed into the child, makes the dreams ownerless — and that leads to unhappiness and melancholia and discontent.

  11. Hi Chris —
    Yes, I think all parents say they want a better life for their child, but in the practice of the urban ghetto, or city core, or violent center, I believe that dream is actually one of not being abandoned or being left behind to face the violence and the terror alone.

  12. Hi Antoinette!
    Excellent comment and I thank you for the exacting specificity of your ideas.
    I have a female friend from the Midwest. Her family is not rich and they life in a poor community. This woman has a successful career in New York — yet there is still great, constant, and perennial pressure to return home and live.
    There have been bribes made to get her to move back home throughout her marriage to a man she met here. Her family will buy her a house, provide her a car and find her a “better” job than the one she has now.
    Her husband is welcome to join her.
    Her dream of getting up and out and away was achieved, but it was not accepted by the parental, familial, core in her hometown. Her parents are aged and her siblings are unreliable, and so, she is expected to give up her dreams and her security in NYC to return home to a depressed town to become a nursemaid to her elderly parents.
    For many, to leave the city of their birth for greener — or browner — pastures that are more than a day’s drive away is unacceptable behavior and it is punishable by cutting off of resources and affection and, in severe cases, renouncing the blood line.

  13. Hi David,
    Your idea about the dream of not being alone is interesting.
    I wonder if people are more alone in the suburbs than they are in the urban core?
    In some ways, there seem to be more people readily available for socialization, requesting help, etc. in the urban core than there are in the often sterile suburbs where people are only seen pulling in and out of their garages in the morning and returning late in the evening.
    In some communities people refer to each other as “family”, even if they aren’t related.
    Drive through the urban core and often there will be many people out and about chatting or walking or socializing, especially now that it’s after Memorial Day.
    The same type of drive in many suburban and exurban subdivisions will be in stark contrast because usually there aren’t many people to be seen, especially when everyone has the air conditioner fired up.

  14. To some, moving to the suburbs is more frightening than moving from the urban core and will move back to places where others fear to go.
    I found an interesting website A View From the Ground written about life at Chicago’s Stateway Gardens.

    The View From The Ground is dedicated to enriching the public conversation about a range of issues associated with abandoned communities.

    Here’s a selection from from Kicking the Pigeon #17 — Epilogue that gives an idea of life in one of Chicago’s communities undergoing transformation.

    Today Stateway Gardens looks like a place where a battle was fought. The lone surviving building—3651-53 South Federal—rises at the center of thirty-three acres of barren, rutted land like a ruin in a vanquished city.
    Last October, as U.S. Cellular Field (across the expressway and a world away ) was being prepared for a World Series game that night, a friend and I walked across the development deep in conversation.
    A large hawk swooped past at eye-level, animating the air with its wings, and alighted on a nearby lamp post. Then, with sovereign disregard for us, it surveyed the desolate terrain in search of prey.

    Seeing people’s lives the way they see it shows that there isn’t much difference between our hopes and dreams.
    The only difference is that things are often tougher in the urban core.

  15. Hi Chris —
    Interesting work! Thanks for finding it and sharing it with us.
    I agree it is easier to lose dreams in the urban core. You have many pressures from the street and school and work and, many times, a decaying infrastructure.
    I think dreams die faster in the city than in the country and some may argue that is a good thing because the only thing that really matters for survival is reality.

  16. David, thanks a lot for this wonderful article.
    I would like to add a couple more things.
    Most of the time, you are right, the modern dreams are entitled to those who are wealthy and established; they are a little bit ahead than the others – to say the least.
    Dreams are pretty common in one sense, every parent and the child himself wants to live a better life than their previous generation regardless of the place and social situation, the ‘way’ varies/differs which I think sometimes causes rift.
    Sometimes the parent’s expectations do not synchronize with their children’s; they think that they ‘know’ what is ‘good’ for their child which is true to their point of view. They fail to see/accept the benefit/advantage of the other way. The parents act rigid because they do not want to go beyond the ‘status quo’; in fact they fear to go because they are not quite sure about the unknown and they ‘mask’ it by saying that they love being ‘traditional.’ Probably we can call it an addiction to a ‘fail safe’ strategy. And when a child follows an unusual path often the reaction is isolation between the two.
    Sometimes, some children follow their parent’s expectation/dream blindly; some show the courage to be different!

  17. Hi Katha!
    Your “synchronization of dreams” is an interesting concept — and a dangerous one for the dreaming because synchronization requires a tacit agreement to get along and to follow the path and agreed route to the finish.
    The best pattern for selflessly supporting dream fulfillment in others seems to be, “I’ll wait here. You let me know if you need help and I’ll provide it.” Anything else teases disingenuousness or risking following a dream that is not yours alone.

  18. Probably I was not clear enough.
    I definitely agree with you on that “I will wait…” concept. That’s ideal. Utopia. Doesn’t happen much. That’s where you need ‘understanding’, if not ‘synchronization’. Or else, life will be something like ‘my way or the high way…’
    My destination/dream can be one, but paths can be many. I can walk alone, or with others, choice is mine! 😀

  19. It’s true to both ways. The ‘expectation’ is never selfless though the reason varies. What parents dream about their children may not be very appealing to the kids.
    Back home, our ancestors brought up their family with a very explicit expectation that they would be taken care of by their kids in their old age. The reason for this expectation was pretty clear enough – because they raised their kids (What they forgot that those kids didn’t fall from the sky, the parents gave birth to them). Whether the expectation is right or wrong is debatable. It is a mere reality. This concept is still there, the percentage may be less.
    If I were a child of an elderly parents who needed support and I lived a life of my own liking, I would have arranged some paid-help if I could afford, not out of the sense of parental duty but out of the feeling of charity might be. Going back to the depressed community being bribed? No way. If I want to go back on my own, that’s a different choice.
    In these cases ‘isolation’ is the only answer.

  20. Hi Katha!
    Thanks for the extended analysis.
    I have an Asian Indian friend who has an older mentally impaired sister. The mother of the two sisters made the younger sister swear she would take care of her severely mentally impaired sister for the rest of her life by living with her when the mother died. The younger sister, at 18, now has to plan her life around the life of her sister.
    Any man she dates seriously she warns about the vow to take care of the sister.
    I’m not sure if I should be impressed by her dedication or saddened by it — in some ways it feels like the price of one life is the wasting of two lives.

  21. Yes, I understand the situation pretty well. The examples like these are plenty in our country. As a social norm, we ‘glorify’ sacrifice. We take our family as our responsibility and vice versa. Again, whether it’s right or wrong, that’s controversial.
    The elder one drops out of school to pay the tuition fees for the young ones, the ‘only child’ doesn’t join in his/her dream job to be with his/her parents, the elder one doesn’t have his/ her own family to take care of his/her siblings…..these are normal in our country. Any deviation from this is viewed as ‘selfishness.’ And, definitely there are some other social stigma and economic problems to be self reliant.
    If I were in your friend’s position I would have weighed the situation very carefully. If my sister was conscious enough to be happy in my presence, if my regular company soothed her a little bit, I would have taken care of her – no doubt. And that’s what differentiates me from one of her mere neighbor – that makes me her sister, as per the theory. But if her mental state was not alert enough to recognize my presence – I would have thought something different.
    When a person willingly takes a responsibility that doesn’t become a burden. And what looks like the best idealistic option at 18, might not look like the same at 28, if the decision is not being taken after proper contemplation.

  22. Hi Katha!
    It sounds like your country is one of duty and misery and the repression of singular desires!
    Is the individual not an encouraged idea?
    Must one always be tethered to someone else?
    Are Only Children ostracized and seen as selfish by default?
    My friend’s impaired sister has the mental age of an eight-year-old — so they could talk to each other and hang out — but it is like always having a child that never grows up… but in the body of a full woman.

  23. What you call ‘repression’ we call it ‘love/care’ – the concept is ingrained in us. We are not I-centric, there is no place for I-syndrome there.
    The priority of an individual comes last, the family comes first. And in most cases the contribution of a family towards a particular individual is unbelievable. It’s a very close bond. The blood-link is considered to be something consecrated.
    I can very well understand the situation of your friend and I feel for her. I feel for her sister too. It’s a very delicate situation which needs a lots of thinking. And finally, it’s your friend’s choice.
    The ‘only child’ are not always ostracized (I am an only child and I am 15,000 miles away from my home) but in some cases pressurized – that too, again is their choice. Those who make lame excuses as ‘family’ being the hindrance for chasing their dream often fail to recognize their own lack of effort.
    Right now I know my parents are doing well, they are fine – they are missing me – but they are doing ok. So I am chasing my own dream. If tomorrow there comes a situation that I have to choose between the two – I will choose my family because their contribution in my life is incredible.