Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Bonsai Children

Together India Opal and Gloria Dump began planting a tiny three-leafed tree into the ground, species unknown. Opal asks Gloria what type of tree it will be when it grows up, what will it look like?

"It's a Wait and See Tree," explains Gloria. "We won't know what it is until it's all grown up." With that, they pat the soil firmly around their baby tree, sit back on their knees, and smile patient, contented smiles. Just have to wait and see.

When a child is born, it's like a Wait and See Tree from the pages of "Because of Winn-Dixie." Character, talents, abilities, looks, all are unknown until the child grows for several years. Some remain unknown until a full-fledged adult is realized. The wise parent, while giving all the wisdom, opportunity, and love they can, will take a wait and see attitude, rather than place expectations upon the child.

Some parents, however, can't stand the wait. Impatiently they begin the process of making a tightly-potted bonsai tree out of what is meant to be a giant, freely-growing redwood, or mighty oak, or white-barked aspen. Expectations are placed on the child, attempts are furiously made to form the child into a teeny replica of themselves, their fantasy selves, or into someone they believe typifies success. While still merely eating, sleeping, and needing fresh diapers, the child's life is planned, arranged, and forced. From the clothing chosen, to school registration, to lessons, hobbies, and activities expectations begin early.

I've known three-feet high children pressured to play what looked like toy violins, until they 'graduated' to full-sized instruments after years of torturous lessons. I've been told they loathed the lessons and resultant practice, that they missed riding bikes and playing street hockey with their friends, or reading, or exploring the garden. Rather than wait and see, the parents of these children chose to see in their children what they wanted to see, and wait for the youngsters to develop according to a pre-conceived vision. The vision never came to fruition. The violin was tossed as soon as the child, after over ten years of enforced lessons, had the gumption to stand up for himself and declare that he really hated violin, and wasn't too fond of music anymore either.

I've known newly-standing, teetering toddlers who were continually dressed in clothes representing daddy's favorite team or sport. At four and five they were loaded down with unwieldy equipment, expected to learn to throw and catch, skate and whack, kick and carry them proficiently, often taught by parents who are either quite good at the sport, or disappointedly incompetent, living vicariously through their miniscule offspring. While young, these kids gleefully pranced around pretending to be the BEST at whichever sport they were saddled with in order to watch their parent smile in delight. The parents saw what they wanted to see, a child headed for greatness and fame, when the reality was a child afraid to upset his folks, a child trying to please his parents, a child striving to keep the status quo because to upset it, would be to upset their entire world.

But oh, the sadness when the ability does not match the vision. Upside-down world. Frustration. Red, shaking faces. Hot tears streaking through dust. The final deadening blow? The dreaded.........disappointment.

I know adults who practically go into spasms at the mention of certain sports because of the sort of trauma just described. I know adults who hate to read, actually have not read anything for pleasure since they left their parents' control, because they were forced by parents to read and report on books they hated, the ancient, long, detailed, dry, dusty sort which have a particular audience.

I know adults who honestly feel like failures simply because they don't meet the expectations of their parents. Life is lived with a specter riding their shoulders, telling them that no matter how much joy they may derive from their personal choices, they are never good enough because Mommy or Daddy wanted them to be a baseball star, an accountant, a doctor, lawyer, preacher, fireman, model, engineer, corporate big-wig, or enter the family business.

On the flip-side are those who DID follow the life-plan created and chipped into stone while they were still toothless and hairless. The specter to these grown children tauntingly whispers the could-have-beens, the should-have-beens, the precious, personal hopes and desires starved and boxed up, set aside so that a parent's aspirations could be realized instead. Realized, yes, and resented. For the one who is sold another's dream, never holds his own.

For me, as a parent, sure, I momentarily dipped my toe into those expecting waters. But all it took for me to step back and take the wait and see position was viewing my child's normally wide-eyed face contorted and clouded. It was quite apparent that my plans were not matching his nature.

When opportunities are given gently without coercion, a child naturally becomes what he is meant to be, roots spreading deep and wide, freely wandering and drinking up life. When forced, they become potted bonsais, their shape and care dependent on mommy and daddy's expectations and constant coddling, for they know not who they are, or from what they have been restrained.

Dependence breeds dependence. Independence breeds freedom.

Better for the growth of a child to Wait and See.


Wandering Coyote said...

Funnily enough, my parents seemed to expect absolutely nothing from me in the grand scheme of things. At home, we were expected to behave a certain way, but as far as shaping or molding me into a person, nada. I was left to do that on my own. On the other hand, my dad seemed to have a great plan in mind for my younger brother. They had a hard time of it, and eventually my brother had to go his own way or be consumed. I am proud of the kid because he's become totally his own man, and has pursued exactly what he wanted to pursue, instead of caving to Dad's pressure.

cecily said...

The pressures were subtle in my family... or maybe not! The only real pressure I remember is that any type of career was wrong - a woman's place is in the home. I'm pretty sure all three of us kids have disappointed our Dad one way or another! At least Mum looks at us all with pride. And I've taught myself to be proud and go with the flow of life... nothing ever works out as planned, not kids, not relationships, not anything! That's life.

tshsmom said...

This is an AMAZING post! You said it so much better than I ever could!

Growing up in a hockey town, I have seen soooo many "bonsai" children. Today, it's even worse. So many parents over-activity their children so they can have the right references for the life THEY have chosen for their children. They're stealing their children's childhoods!

L and I are definitely "wait and see" parents. We told our kids they can be ANYTHING they want to be, and encourage any skill THEY want to learn.

Cherie said...

"...go his own way or be consumed." Yep, WC, a lot of us have found ourselves at that fork in the road. I'm glad your brother followed his dreams. Weird how differently the two of you were raised. It's kind of a sticky thing, raising kids. So many options. Thanks for the comment.

Cec, "... I've taught myself to be proud and go with the flow of life... nothing ever works out as planned, not kids, not relationships, not anything! That's life." This is right thinking as far as I'm concerned. True to life. Thanks for your wisdom and comments!

Tshs: I had you and L pegged as wait and see parents. Not at all surprised, and quite delighted at your comments. I feel so sad for the kids -and for the parents, too, because no matter how a bonsai kid turns out, no one is ever fully satisfied.
Thanks, Tshs!

Anonymous said...

Sometimes we think we are judged by how our children turn out. Great at sports-we are strong, great at school-we must be smart, if our kids do drugs-we must have done something wrong. We do the damage to ourselves and our children, we need to learn to be less self absorbed. "Wait and See" this is one of the best statements I've heard about raising kids in a long time.

Cherie said...

Sandy - yes, Yes, YES!! You are so right and you put it so well.

Thanks for adding a new dimension to the conversation!

Marianne Elixir said...

I whole heartedly agree with the wait and see approach...but perhaps you could email me this post annually or so for the next 20 years just to keep me grounded =)

Deadmanshonda said...

wise, wise, words.

tshsmom said...

"...nothing ever works out as planned, not kids, not relationships, not anything!"

So TRUE! That reminds me of one of my favorite quotes: "Life is what happens while we're making plans."

Sandy's right; we ARE judged by how our kids turn out. I'd like to be known as a well-loved Mom who raised loving, free-thinking human beings. ;)

Cherie said...

Ah, M, I have every confidence that you will be one of those moms that moms-to-be look at and say, "I wanna be a mom like HER!"

Leisel - thanks thanks thanks....

tshs: It's a major bummer to be judged by the kids, until you remember WC's friend's quote -see above, sidebar about judging. You are already known as the well-loved mom of the loving free-thinking human beings, I'm sure of it.

All these comments are very encouraging.

tshsmom said...

Cherie, feel free to vent ANYTIME. I haven't told most of my family and friends about my blog for just that reason. I can vent without hurting anybody's feelings.
My MIL is schizophrenic. She can be perfectly sweet and sensible...until the voices tell her that we're trying to poison her, or that we're in cahoots with the FBI against her. THEN there's hell to pay! :(
I hope you regain your peace...SOON!!

Cherie said...

tshs: Thank you for the support. I'm trying to sort through the hateful behavior and words my MIL subjected us to for the past three days. She's gone home now. Tom and I have concluded that there is something wrong in her brain, too.

Madness is a hard thing to deal with, huh? The most distressing part is that the vulnerability and effort that I've put into coming to love her, to be especially kind and forgiving, have been used against me somehow, to hurt me harder, if you know what I mean. I don't know how to process insanity. Tom says, "Well, if you can get inside the head of a a crazy person, that means you must be crazy, too, so take comfort is your inability to understand."

My peace is being restored slowly. The girls and I are taking a day-trip to see my folks today. The diversion should be a good equalizer, I hope. Again, thanks for being there!

tshsmom said...

I've come to the same conclusion as Tom. If this behavior starts making sense to us, we're in BIG trouble! ;)

Unbalanced people will use any weapon at their disposal, including our love. They have a natural talent for knowing how to hit where it hurts the most! :(

Cherie said...

Yep. I think you are so right........