Saturday, March 03, 2007
Growing the Future
Back when my sister and her husband got married, a video was made for them at the reception which included comments and best wishes and honeymoon advice from the wedding guests. When they turned the camera on our little Matthew, the ring bearer, he came up with this: “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!” Of course, he had no idea what it meant, but he thought it sounded good enough to say.
From the first moment our kids are born, we have aspirations for them. Part of this process entails the search for similarities between parent and child. One of the greatest compliments you can give a new parent is to say, “Your baby looks just like you!” As the child grows, we bask in every nuance of mannerism that mirrors our own. He’s got my smile or my gait. She’s got my speech pattern or my wit. Then later, we cultivate our interests and hobbies. Chris is pleased when Caroline can pronounce some obscure character’s name in Star Wars. I’m ecstatic when Charlotte can recognize Lincoln. And, as last week revealed, I took pride when Caroline expressed a tiny bit of interest in quilting. Already I had her life planned out as being the next generation of quilters in the family.
“Don’t do what I wouldn’t do,” and its corollary, “Do what I do; like what I like; be good at what I am good at” are parental mantras, whether we actually voice them or not. These are our expectations, because part of the joy in raising children is feeling we have had some influence over their personalities and tastes and beliefs. We have passed on part of ourselves.
My dad was a philatelist. I always felt guilty that neither my sister nor I ever really carried on his love of stamp collecting. But instead, he passed on to us his love of music.
Caveats abound in parenting books on the trap of trying to live through your kids. I get a kick out of thinking that were it not for my mother, I never would have learned to play the piano. Was she a pianist? No - she couldn’t play a note. But she always wanted to learn, so instead of learning herself, she enrolled her daughters in piano lessons and played the piano vicariously from then on. That’s sort of a backwards influence - in this case, not “Do what I do,” but “Do what I always wished I could do.”
An Asian Olympic skier was in the news this week. He had become lost as a child, and when his parents couldn’t be located, he ended up being adopted by an American couple - who happened to be ski instructors. He was immersed in that pursuit at an early age, and followed it to participation in the Olympics. I wondered what would have happened if he had been adopted by violin virtuosos or artisan bread bakers. Would their influence have moved his life in a different, maybe equally successful direction?
As our children maneuver through adulthood, our roles change more to that of spectators rather than participants. We set the foundation, help with the education, then watch what turns out. Sometimes they mirror our interests; sometimes they go off in a complete different direction. Sometimes, like my friend Sally, we marvel at how on earth these talented, gifted, remarkable adults ever even came out of our bodies, because they have developed their skills to such heights that they have surpassed our wildest expectations. We watch them make decisions about careers, about finances, about where to live, about how to negotiate relationships, about how to raise their own kids, and we worry and we encourage and sometimes we just stand back in awe and wonderment.
So sometimes we find ourselves starting to say, “Don’t do what we wouldn’t do,” and other times, “Do what we do,” but in the end, all we can say to our children is this: Be your wonderful selves. Develop your potential. Have patience with us because it's hard to let go. But most important: We love you and are so proud to be your parents.