When Dreams Die

cloud-tearsAs parents, we are told to never push our dreams on our children. If we didn’t make the swim team, we are not supposed to force our kids to swim. If we always wanted to be a rock star, we are urged not to hand a guitar to our kids and order them to play. I get that. We didn’t do that. No matter how much I love baseball, I didn’t make my boys continue to play when they didn’t want to.

But no one told us what to do when our kids’ dreams change.

For 4 years our eldest lived and breathed JROTC. He rocked the uniform; he earned the promotions; he participated in the competitions; he won the awards. We emotionally invested ourselves in the dream he expressed of flying in the Air Force. We spent countless hours coaching him through his application to the Air Force Academy. We made sure that we were checking in along the way, ensuring this is what he wanted to do. When the Academy didn’t pan out, we wholeheartedly threw our support behind his entrance into UCF’s Air Force ROTC program. We bought the Air Force T-shirts and put the bumper sticker on our car. His dream became ours.

Then, one day a few weeks ago, he told us he didn’t want to do that anymore.

Wait. What?

He had decided he wanted to drop out of his college ROTC program and change his major. Now, for a freshman just halfway through his first semester, changing his mind on a major is not a big thing. But what happened to the dream?

I felt like I had whiplash. What was I supposed to do now? I had the bumper sticker, for crying out loud!

OK, step back. Take a deep breath. Here are 3 things to do when their dream changes and your dream dies.

1. Assure them that you will support them whatever they decide. Of course, my younger son then informed us that he was moving out tomorrow and heading to “Hungaria” and joining the circus. Seriously, though, Justin needs to know that it’s OK to explore options, as long as he’s doing it for the right reasons. Is he changing for fear that he won’t succeed at what he wanted to do?

2. Give yourself room to grieve the dream, and let them in on the process. I shared with both my sons how I was feeling about this change, and that, in the process, I would be asking questions more for my own sake than for his. (That’s the conversation where the circus came up. Thanks for keeping things light, Son.)

3. Ask them how you can help. With a change of major, even in freshman year, came the need for a conversation with a new advisor in the new college of study. All this had to happen fairly quickly so he could register for his next semester. My question to him was, “What would you like me to do for you?” He asked me to research a couple of things for him relating to what he was considering pursuing next. I can do that. And I can pray. Pray for him and for us as we try to refocus.

I really don’t care what he does. I honestly don’t. He can be a garbage collector (though that might not be the best use of a college education), as long as he is listening to the Lord and doing what He wants him to do.

Getting a bumper sticker off the car is another issue.

image from sourceseekers.com

7 thoughts on “When Dreams Die

  1. Good post, Stephanie. I think these steps are great advice. I know I changed my major half way through my Freshman year, too. It must be the time where things hit you just right. Hoping all goes well with the new major and with the bumper sticker removal!

  2. Hello,

    Found you through a search of Air Force topics. If I may offer a slightly different perspective of your son’s decision. I am a former Air Force pilot and am currently a pilot for a major airline. I have been flying since 1991 and have another 18 years before I can retire so I am in the prime of my career.

    I think your son made a brave and bold decision and I salute him. Flying airplanes professionally is a long and hard road. It is littered with the failed dreams of so many people because they were not 100% dedicated to their craft. Aviation is not a career where one can be 99% invested because that 1% will leave the young person short of their goal but saddled with a massive amount of debt. Aviation is not like being a doctor or lawyer where a young person is reasonably assured of a good paying job following school. In fact, the starting salary is less than the person that makes coffee at Starbucks. In the military, the pay is slightly better but the path is just as littered with failed dreams. One bad day at work can end with a crashed airplane or a sudden health problem will end the career with no hope of returning to work. You can be a doctor or lawyer without a left thumb, but you will never fly an airplane again afterwards. It is a hard road and it isn’t for everyone and that is okay.

    Having said that, the door to becoming a pilot isn’t closed just because he changed his degree program now. All a person needs to is to have a college degree and apply to the Air Force. My degree is psychology and most pilots have non-technical degrees. All is well and I appreciate him for making his decision. By the way, my advice to all young people about flying is to encourage them to invent an APP for cell phones and make a billion dollars. Then they can afford to learn how to fly and buy a basketball team.

    Hope that helps,


    • Thank you, Rob! I so appreciate your perspective. One of the reasons my son made his decision, I think, is that he was medically dq’d from the Academy for having food allergies. He would need to get a waiver to remain in ROTC. He felt that even if he was waivered, would he get the job he wanted? Valid questions, all. He is now looking to go into law enforcement. He was also realizing that a military career would make having a family very stressful. Thanks for ringing in with all your experience. It means a lot!

      • Perspective is so important in life. I am not sure of the restrictions covering food allergies, there is one important thing to know. For every Air Force Regulation, there is a equal and opposite waiver. All that means is that if they want him, they can work it out just by a signature on a piece of paper.

        But you are absolutely correct about the stress on a family although I’m sure careers in law enforcement are just as worrisome.

        Wishing you and your family all the best.

    • Thanks, also, Rob—from the dad in this picture. I, too, loved that Justin had a warrior’s heart, and felt that he’d excel in the military. He thinks like an engineer, and I dreamed that he might even find a niche on the aerospace design side of the Air Force, even if he couldn’t become a pilot. Now that he’s looking toward law enforcement, I can still see the former being applicable, but not so much with the latter. At any rate, like Stephanie said, we’ll support his life pursuit as we watch him find what God has created him to be. He’s got a lot to offer this world.

      And thank you also, Rob, for your service in the AF. I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying your sweet spot.


      • David,

        Thank you for the warm words. I always refer to my place in the family as window dressing. Not vital to the day to day operations, but essential in the pictures.

        I really appreciate your support for your kids in following their dreams. My parents were just as supportive and as you know, it really makes a difference in a helping a young man become a man.

        Best Wishes,


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