Parental Projection and BEARTOWN by Fredrik Backman
Beartown is a remote town in the corner of a forest. The population is dwindling, and those left are hardened by reality, fiercely proud of their town, and aggressively protective of its history, culture, and traditions. The factory that employed much of the community closed recently, jobs are hard to come by, and people are too proud to ask for help.
Life in Beartown is hard. There is one hope, though. The junior hockey team is good – the best team in years. If the team wins the championship, a new hockey academy will open in Beartown, bringing sponsor money to fund jobs. Beartown needs a win, and everything rests on a rag-tag group of seventeen-year-old boys who are under a world of pressure.
No spoilers here. But I can’t continue without saying that these seventeen-year-old boys make some terrible decisions. Instead of focusing on that and ruining the book for you, I will focus on parental projection.
Projection is a Freudian concept in which we attribute thoughts and motivations we can’t accept to someone else. A classic example is the person who feels inadequate, ignores it, assigns the perceived weakness to another person, and then bullies them for it. Projection (like all defense mechanisms) is an unhealthy way to cope with feelings and can lead to negative emotional consequences.
Parental projection is common and frequently speaks to parents' unresolved feelings about their lives. In Beartown, many parents failed to become successful professional hockey players and ended up stuck in a life filled with hardship. The parents lovingly (mistakenly?) believe hockey is the only path to a better life, so they set unachievable goals for the kids and then devote their lives (the kid and the parent) to attaining the unattainable. From the kid’s perspective, the only way to make their parent happy is to do something impossible. So, the kid either stresses themselves out trying and failing; or views success as impossible and mentally checks-out.
But wait, shouldn’t we encourage our kids to achieve amazing things? Sure! Yes! Go for it! Encouragement, or seeing a child fully and supporting them to achieve their specific dreams, is wonderful.
Here are some tips on how to avoid parental projecting:
Reflect on the goals you set for yourself and how you did or did not accomplish those goals.
Listen to your child with curiosity and an open mind. Hear their interests and passions, and work together on finding ways that you, as a team, can support your child in achieving their goals.
Be very wary of any scenario that overly links your child’s success with your own. If you do proceed, do so with extreme caution.
In Beartown, hockey success (the objective of parental projection) was all-consuming. Suppose the parents in Beartown had disengaged from parental projection. In that case, it’s fair to say that the kids' day-to-day lives, in addition to their hopes, dreams, and aspirations, would have been less stressful and dim. Maybe they wouldn’t have been overtaken by their darkest sides in moments that deeply matter.