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One of my son’s elementary school’s mottos is “Dream Big.” This seems like a good thing. If you are anywhere from age 5 to age 11, you should dream big. In kindergarten, I certainly wouldn’t have wanted anyone to come along and tell me that my dream of being a trapeze artist wasn’t realistic. No one should steal a child’s dreams. The question becomes, at what age should reality begin to intervene? If your child wants to become a philosophy major, for example, and has no intention of teaching, do you support that decision? Moreover, do you pay for it?

In today’s economy, I find myself thinking about these kinds of questions a lot. Braeden’s a very bright kid who is capable of doing anything he puts his mind to, but as his parent, is it my responsibility to steer him toward a career that supports all of his dreams? Because as most adults know, dreams cost. You want to travel the world? Great. Find a job that will pay for it. That’s not the fun part of dreams, that they come with price tags attached. It’s a tough aspect to ignore, though.

This seems ironic, coming from me. I have a B.A. in English, and I never had even the slightest desire to teach, or go on to law school, or do any of the things that an English degree is a good base for. I majored in English because I was good at it. I never thought any further than that, and no adult in my life, including school administrators, ever forced the issue. I knew I wanted to write, but how that dream was going to become a reality was never clear. I think I just thought it would happen, that I’d wake up one day and write a novel. So far, though, the Novel Fairy hasn’t visited while I slept. Before having children, I was an Executive Assistant. I wrote a mean business letter, but that was as far as it went. I am detail-oriented, so I was good at my job. Was I great? Mmph. I never had any passion for it; my dreams were always somewhere else.

My husband has a degree in Fine Art, something he happens to be great at. The first time I ever saw one of his paintings I was flabbergasted. He’s a very understated guy. I knew what he’d majored in, but it wasn’t what he was doing for a living, either. I hadn’t had much cause to think about it. When I entered his parents’ home and suddenly was surrounded by his artwork – oil paintings, watercolors, bronze work, painted tiles – I was genuinely blown away. He’s a brilliant artist. He isn’t a salesman, though. Self-promotion isn’t really his thing, and in this world, you need that skill, especially as an artist. Selling yourself is a big part of the job.

So here we sit, two adults with unfulfilled dreams and relatively useless degrees. What do we tell our children? “Dream big?” I have a friend who has a career which holds zero appeal for me, but which has enormous earning potential. She’s already making an exceptionally good living, and it’s only going to improve from here. Do I push Braeden in a similar direction? I want him to be happy, obviously. As his parent, his happiness is my number one priority. But, I have learned that happiness, too, has a price. Financial security goes a long, long way toward supporting happiness. It’s very difficult to be happy when you’re constantly worried about money. I want him to dream big, but I also want him to never, ever experience the stress his father and I are going through now. I would love to believe that all of his dreams will come true, but all the love in the world can’t guarantee it for him.

When I was 11 or 12, I remember having a similar conversation with my mother. I’d told her I was going to be a writer, and her response was, “Great, now what are you going to do for a living?” I remember how hurt I was at the time. I felt like she was basically telling my my dream would never come true. As a parent, I have more understanding. I know exactly how hard it is to want everything for your children but not be able to guarantee it. How old should children be before we start to warn them their dreams might have limits? I don’t have any good answers, and it makes me incredibly sad thinking about it. To other parents out there, what do you think? Do you offer unqualified support no matter how “out there” your child’s dream might be? Do you worry about their financial futures? Is there an age at which you start dosing out logic along with your support? Maybe one of you has a better answer. I’m always listening.