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A Cool Stage-Mom Study

Photograph by AFP/Getty Images

From stage moms to soccer moms, some of us seem to be acting out our frustrated dreams through our kids. Now, a scientific study finally makes it official: Certain mothers among us really do want their children to achieve their own unmet ambitions.

The study, out of Utrecht University in the Netherlands, appeared in the journal PLOS ONE on Wednesday. It marked the first time this pet theory, long spun by psychologists (plus everyone who’s ever sat next to an overbearing parent at dance recital), has been put to the test.

Researchers surveyed 73 parents (89 percent of them mothers) of kids ages 8 to 15. The results? The more that parents saw their child as a mini-me rather than as his or her own person, the more likely they were to want their kids to succeed where they had not. (Among the dreams that had eluded parents in the study: publishing a novel, launching a successful business and becoming a pro tennis player.)

Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University, is one of the study’s co-authors. The investigation’s results, he says, might explain why stage and sports moms (and dads!) act the way they do, sometimes shoving their less-than-willing kids into the spotlight. "Some parents see their children as extensions of themselves, rather than as separate people with their own hopes and dreams," he said.

"Parents then may bask in the reflected glory of their children, and lose some of the feelings of regret and disappointment that they couldn't achieve these same goals," Bushman noted. "They might be living vicariously through their children."

But is all this secondhand striving good for children we push? Bushman says further research is needed to assess how it impacts kids’ mental health.

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