Dear Dreamer,

You are most likely reading these words because you had a nightmare, perhaps some weeks or even months ago now, perhaps last night.

I’m going to try to keep this brief, but please understand that I am trying to write something that could be helpful to you, but also to your fellow parents who have also had a nightmare, just like you.

Although I have written as patiently and clearly as I could that I am no longer able to personally interpret dreams at this time, people keep Googling the topic of nightmares about children and I seem to keep showing up in the search—even though I have not been interpreting dreams here for some time.

Still, when people are scared they apparently don’t read much about what I have to say to other dreamers, or that I’m not interpreting dreams at this time—they just spill their dream into the comment box and hope I will read it and tell them what it means.

Please understand that even though I don’t know you, I would like you to be able to feel better. But after interpreting literally hundreds of dreams, staying up late at nights answering inquiries after working full days, I’m hoping maybe someone else might step up as I step back.

That said, let me sign off on interpreting all these nightmares with some overall ideas that you may consider if you still want help with your dream. You will have to take these ideas, however, and then put in some work on your own.

Firstly, you have written your dream down and thus your own written record of it is now here for you to prompt your memory as you circle back to your dream to try and make some sense of it—for your own self. That’s really the best way to interpret your dreams, to work with the material and think about all the random things it brings back into your mind and then, like a puzzle, try to figure out how these random things fit together.

In general I would suggest that dreams are not reliable predictors of the future and so I would encourage you not to take your dream literally as foretelling a tragedy.

Obviously we all want to keep our kids safe and do what we can to protect them. If your dream is telling you that you are unconsciously worried that you are not keeping your child safe, then it would be appropriate to take action to protect your child.

More likely your nightmare is somehow reminding you of your own past traumas or confronting you with the very feelings that you try to avoid in waking life. If this is true, and you have not yet been able to heal from a past trauma or loss or traumatic loss, then perhaps the “message” or “meaning” of the dream is that you are in pain and you need/deserve some therapy or other way of helping yourself resolve your trauma and find a way to move forward. In this case the “meaning” is “get some help” and if you do get some help and the dream stops recurring, then you can appreciate how your unconscious encouraged you to get better (and this helps your kids by giving them a calmer and more confident and happy parent).

When we talk about the “meaning” of dreams we are looking at the situations or things in the dream through the lens of symbolism. Freud was all about this, and it’s interesting stuff, it just doesn’t have much place in science. It does have a place in art and literature.

So whether or not cigars symbolize penises and staircases symbolize sex (I sort of doubt these arcane symbolic interpretations for you the modern dreamer) one thing all these nightmares have in common is that they are about “bad things” happening to “children.”

Thus “bad things” aren’t symbols so much as they are visual representations of feelings (fear, dread, loss, etc) and in these dreams the Unifying Symbol is The Child.

Maybe our children symbolize EVERYTHING. We love them, they frustrate us, we practically die ourselves at the very thought of harm or death involving our children.

So one umbrella interpretation is that a nightmare about our child or children is a symbolic way of feeling the worst possible feeling we could ever imagine. But we don’t really need a nightmare like this in order to know we love our children.

And if that’s so, what’s the point of a brain that scares us for NO GOOD REASON?

Maybe it’s the same as having a worry brain that torments us, tells us we suck, aren’t good enough, don’t have enough, aren’t safe, loved or lovable. This very brain makes us nervous and unhappy but pretty good at survival. That may be both why there are so many more humans than animals (we won the contest to survive); and it may be why humans have such annoying tendencies for selfishness, greed, cruelty and violence… when we don’t feel safe, loved or respected.

If we do feel safe, loved and respected we tend to be pretty social and nice and creative and industrious and generous (it’s just that we too often feel lonely and inadequate instead of loved and respected… even in our own minds, in our own negative opinions of ourselves, in our sleep when our brains cook up nightmares and cast us as victims).

Thus your nightmare might simply be about feeling scared, horrified, out of control, sad, angry, helpless, abandoned, lonely or whatever horrible emotion lead you to Googling nightmares about children. Whatever we may think about our nightmares, what we know is that they make us feel awful.

And so we want an “answer,” that will make us feel safe and good again. But feelings are not facts any more than dreams are waking reality. We can’t solve the riddle, but we can feel the horror and accept the emotional reality that we cannot love our children without the built in risk that bad things could happen and thus horrible feelings could happen.

This seems like the best guess of all, because even if you had trauma, or the superstitious fear that bad things are going to happen, what you most certainly do not want is to feel bad, mad, scared, helpless, sad, lonely, powerless, etc. And yet your unconscious went and made you feel bad.

And this is deeply human: we don’t want to feel lonely, scared, hurt, etc. And yet our own brains have a way of making us feel bad, scared, inadequate, etc.

This could be understood as our “survival brain.” Our biology wants us to survive, and we do survive by staying scared (running from saber-toothed tigers in prehistoric times) and we do survive by never feeling good enough or like we have enough.

Our survival brain does not care if we are happy, its job is to keep us alive—terrified, unhappy, restless but alive.

Happiness happens in a different part of the brain, the part that does Love, and Gratitude and likes hearing music and likes just hanging out with people who are nice. When that part of the brain is working we are not scared about things that are just dreams, and we know the difference between real threats and passing emotions (like nightmares) that are not real threats.

So… when we get scared, sad, “triggered,” into trauma we do not feel safe and we want solutions to our “problem.” We hope that “knowing the meaning” of the nightmare will give us control over it and then we won’t feel scared.

But feelings, including fear, are not “problems to solve.” They are just feelings.

This is not to say that if you were abused, or your kids are being hurt that we shouldn’t take real steps in the real world to heal, to stop cycles of abuse, to protect children from real harm. We just need to differentiate real threats from the ones our brain made up in the night.

So to conclude, if you want to interpret your dream and you want clues about how to do that feel free to read even a few of the hundreds of interpretations I’ve already offered; this way of thinking is like English Class where we could have a discussion about what a novel “means.” Even then, the author is the best person to ask about the meaning of their book, and mostly they will say that they expressed what they meant with the book, and that their unconscious participated in the making of art.

You are the dreamer and so you are the master artist who made a personal horror film in your mind. What it means is known better to you than to me or anyone else, but if you watch the dream you will see your own brilliant ability to scare the hell out of yourself. Realize that you are good at that, and that keeps you alive.

Try to see the artistry in your dream and you may be willing to feel scared, the way you must be willing to feel scared if you watch a horror movie. It lets out steam, makes you feel alive, or glad to wake up, or leave the movie and stumble back out into the light of day. We all must be willing to feel devastating loss if we are going to let love be alive in our lives. When we attach, we could lose; and losing those we love sucks beyond words.

Finally, there is a teacher of cartooning, Lynda Barry, whom I admire (https://www.drawnandquarterly.com/syllabus) and she encourages us to begin drawing by drawing monsters. The logic goes that since monsters are not real, there is no way to “get it wrong.”

In that spirit, I would invite you to re-read your dream and consider drawing a scene from it, or making it into a comic. You could share it back here if you want, and maybe other readers would find it interesting, or make them smile, or feel less alone.

Words, after all, tend to be literal and when our brain tells us, “you are not safe,” it ends up being processed as a terrifying fact instead of a feeling created by the words in our mind; and dreams are so vivid that they become “real” to us, but only when we are sleeping. They are not “real” in terms of waking life, they just “feel so real.”

Ultimately our waking lives might be like some sort of dream we all dream up together. No one person makes the world alone, but we all do make the world’s nightmare problems, and great moments too.

Perhaps if we could turn our nightmares into art, into laughter, into courage to live better experiences than those we dream up in our darkest moments we might all wake up together to a better world.

That’s all I’ve got for now. I sincerely hope it helps.

And if you want to send a picture, I won’t interpret it but I will be happy to look at how your monsters look to you ☺

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Do What You Love

May 2, 2016

AwkTHi all!  It’s been ages since I have posted anything, but I wanted to say hello to readers who still subscribe to Privilege of Parenting, and welcome to any new readers who may wander by.

when I was blogging about parenting I realized that I ended up giving a fair amount of advice, when mostly I wanted to connect and offer compassion and community.  Writing about parenting was an attempt to merge my interest in writing and creativity (and also to make sense of my own creative block and maybe finally break through it) with my interest in psychology and especially in my wish to contribute in a wider way than just direct psychotherapy.

When I started blogging my kids were in elementary school.  As I write this post I am about to travel to attend my oldest son’s college graduation; my younger son is nearly finished with his freshman year in college; my wife is back in school studying to become a therapist and my dog isn’t getting any younger… and yet as the house grew quiet I found myself drawing, like when I was a kid.

I have always liked kids’ art, maybe because despite all my attempts to “grow up” I am very much a kid at heart.  I am by no means conversant in Nietzsche, but someone who studied philosophy told me that Nietzsche believed that humans needed to live as “artists” by which he meant to be our best Selves, a true expression of our hearts with all their feelings in whatever we “do” in life, more than he meant to paint or write or make music.

I like that idea, and in parenting I tried to be my best Self, but in order to do that I needed to write about it, think about it, talk with others about it, get support and offer support.  The blessings do come, over time so it seems, from “leaving it all on the field.”  Maybe it’s that transcendent field of all-in commitment, beyond terror and dread, through passion to love that Rumi means when he says, “Beyond right and wrong there is a field.  I’ll meet you there.”

Nietzsche says, “In spite of fear and pity, we are the happy living beings, not as individuals, but as one living being, with whose creative joy we are united.”

So many teaching on wisdom speak about balancing opposites; Jung is all about differentiating and relating opposites within the psyche; brain science is all about differentiated parts communicating harmoniously in both “executive function” and also gratitude and present moment awareness.  Nietzsche was all about the balance of Apollonian reason and Dionysian passion.

When I think about those I love, and I am pleased to acknowledge that I love a lot of people, I think my favorite things are kindness and authenticity; those are the people who inspire me to keep taking chances and trust that I will be loved even if I fail or end up looking stupid.

It is in this spirit that I wanted to admit that I have been spending my late night hours after full days of work taking an arts class and drawing at my dining room table (a table that I will have to clear for the summer with a full house about to happily constellate).

I ran into a couple of colleagues last fall at a psychology conference, in a breakout seminar on the psychology of procrastination and avoidance.  Newsflash:  like all anxiety it is about avoidance.

I admitted that I wanted to make a graphic novel, or at least a story, and my colleagues had some projects of their own still not accomplished.  We worked to be more conscious of our fears, and agreed to keep supporting the others to check in and keep going.

Then a client brought me a book on cartooning, which I highly recommend for anyone who wants to get more creative but feels intimidated or stuck (Syllabus by Linda Barry); and then my artsy son and my wife saw my drawings and encouraged me to take a class.  I was nervous—and I was right to be, if the point is being “good” as it was young people serious about an arts career, and teachers already having arts careers.  I was older than the teachers by about 20 years, and nearly 40 years older than the youngest student.  But they were awesome—so kind and encouraging—and soon I was just having fun (and working hard—deadlines and structure really help us get things accomplished).

Tonight is the last class, and I know I’m going to miss it.  I have to turn my comic book in, which I just finished yesterday (and I’m waiting for Amazon Prime to deliver my “long reach stapler” just in time for the deadline).  We also had to make a website to share our art.  I wouldn’t have done that either without the assignment and the structure.  I’m tired, but I think I might take another class.

I guess I share this for two reasons: 1) to invite you to come read my comic book; and 2) to encourage and inspire any readers who may be feeling a little stuck to let the connections with others be part of the fabric that allows us to create—not necessarily “works” of art, but relationships and experiences that weave us into that “one living being, with whose creative joy we are united.”

To read my Comic, “Poultry Germs,” visit awkwardtangent.com

And in any event, thanks to the many who inspire me with their sincerity and encouragement to keep it real—wishing all who may come upon these words compassion, friendship and creative joy in life well-lived.

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Wake Up

January 19, 2015

I would say, “Happy Martin Luther King Day,” except we’re not there yet.  Instead let’s just acknowledge that it’s Martin Luther King Day and admit that we have not yet overcome and that today’s a day to keep on pushing forward on liberty and justice for ALL. When I left Selma the other night I […]

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A Review of “Little Elliot, Big City,” by Mike Curato

August 26, 2014

Of all the imaginary juice joints in the wide world of the child’s mind, it had to be Elliot, Little Elliot who walked into Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle where I was sitting with my legs dangling from a booster seat, trading “what time is it?” jokes with Madeline.  Ferdinand was drowsing over a flower […]

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nothing to say but it’s okay

April 6, 2014
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My Father, My Selfie

January 26, 2014

Greetings.  Readers of this blog have perhaps noticed that I have been disinclined to write in recent months.  When I first leapt into this blogosphere back in 2009, and felt like Sandra Bullock spinning terrified in Gravity, a Wolf, D.A. Wolf, came by like some virtual George Clooney (although with better dialogue to be sure) […]

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A Guide to Bad Dreams About Our Children

August 4, 2013

Given that I can’t really keep up with the demand for dream interpretation that I have been receiving and that I don’t have time to organize the material into a proper guidebook to nightmares about our children I have elected to take an interim step:  to offer nine blog posts dealing with the most common […]

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That Sinking Feeling—Dreams about Children Drowning

August 4, 2013

Below you will find a thread of dreams from youngest to older children involving water and drowning.  This is the most common category of nightmares I have received from parents so at the very least you are not alone in this nightmare. Some theories of dreaming include the notion that our brains naturally experience a […]

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Nightmares about Children Falling

August 4, 2013

The dreams below, organized from younger to older children, all involve kids falling.  It seems that when we fall asleep it is common to have the sensation of lightness or floating.  After sinking feelings and drowning dreams, dreams about flying and/or falling seem to be the second most common category. Some anthropologists have theorized that […]

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Nightmares of Children being Kidnapped or Chased

August 4, 2013

The dreams in this category all have to do with bad guys, monsters, scary animals or other malevolent forces abducting, chasing, harming and tormenting the dreamer’s child or children. This category of dreams could be called “Shadow” dreams insofar as they may be dealing with our own dark places, the aggression and cruelty that lurks […]

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