Parents are sometimes amazed by how early their infant exhibits a personality. The spirit of their child expresses itself little by little as it emerges from the crawling phase to walking, from the babbling stage to talking, and from the inquisitive child who wants to know everything to the all-knowing child who thinks she already knows all there is to know.
Even before they are born, though, some babies enter the world already burdened with parental expectations. Mom and Dad educate their children, raise them in a certain religion, impart wisdom to them, and encourage them to become responsible human beings.
Hoping their child matches or exceeds their expectations, parents are surprised when a child expresses a personality that differs greatly from what they expected their child to exhibit.
Those same parents attempt to persuade their children to fit molds that were carved out for them long before they were born in hopes that parental planning and guidance will guarantee realized expectations.
When those desires go unrealized, instead of paying attention to the spirit of the child and the path the child wants to take (and perhaps the path the child was destined to take), parents drift apart from their child and question where they went wrong.
Some dads, for example, fully expect their sons to be star athletes as they encourage them early on to become involved in sports. When the son grows up to play the guitar, Dad becomes enraged. The son feels inadequate and hopeless, trying, but never succeeding, to win his dad’s respect and admiration.
A mother buys her daughter all of the latest dolls and doll furniture, but her daughter prefers climbing, running, jumping, and exploring to sitting still long enough to play with dolls. No amount of lady-like manner classes the mother forces her daughter to take will quell the little girl’s adventurous spirit.
The lawyer Mom hoped to raise becomes a circus clown and the actress Dad hoped for turns her attention to aviation.
Unknowingly, many parents hinder their child’s growth and development by sending signals to the child that remind the child daily, “You are not living up to OUR expectations!”
The child feels he is falling short and tries to compensate by forcing himself to become somebody he is not. Depression sets in and the child feels doomed to live an unhappy life.
A daughter discovers she is gay, but can’t bring herself to tell her mother, who speaks only about all the grandchildren she hopes to have one day. The daughter doesn’t want to disappoint her mother, but she recognizes that her path is different from the one chosen for her by her mother. She believes that telling her mother she is gay would be killing her mother’s dream, so she says nothing and continues to live a lie.
Children who can’t be who they are wrestle with undeserved guilt, pain, and shame. Parents, oblivious to their child’s pain, ignore their child. The child knows his parents would never embarrass themselves by admitting to friends, family, or neighbors that their child was anything but what his parents expected him to be – whatever that was.
Is the extreme need to blend in with society society’s fault? Are we all falling victim to stereotypes, expecting our children to adhere to them, because we are so concerned about how things look to others that we can’t bear to allow our children to be themselves?
Perhaps those families are doomed to continue passing judgment on to their children and showing their disapproval of them because their parents passed that same judgment on to them.
The same parents who can not and will not accept the differences in their children might be embarrassed by their own parents as well. An eccentric grandparent causes eyeballs to roll. Some families regard the eccentricity as cute; others regard it as loathsome and whisk the repugnant relative off to other relatives or a nursing home so others can deal with what they consider to be “the problem.”
We have a hard time understanding people who are different from us. They frighten us, because their behavior is unfamiliar to us. And we have a hard time appreciating those differences, especially when we expect loved ones to adhere to our own misconceptions about what we want them to be. A family unfamiliar with its own members is sad for everyone involved.
If only we recognized that special spark of spirit that ignites each child and forms what he or she might become. If only we realized that each person is born with his or her own unique talents and skill potentials. If only, as parents, we knew how to guide our children to explore their own potentials, we might not be so quick to judge them the way society wants us to judge them.
Instead of watching them shrivel into a corner, hiding in misery from the family they thought would love them, we would be able to witness a spectacular blossoming of that special spirit God created in them.
No better example of how guidance, combined with a desire to understand the spirit of a child can be found than in this amazing video of Ricochet, a dog that was raised to care for the disabled. Though trained to be a guide dog, Ricochet found her own unique way of using her special gifts to help raise money for the disabled.
Although the video is about an animal, the essence of the video is about the spirit of a dog who stole the heart of her trainer and proved that the spirit inherent in any being, when nurtured and allowed to be given expression, exceeds everyone’s expectations.
Perhaps the time has come for us to stop asking ourselves if our children make us proud, and instead, to ask ourselves if we are proud of ourselves and the way we raised our children.
And perhaps the time has come for us to recognize the spirit in each child and encourage that child to venture upon his or her own unique path.
I invite you to watch the video of Ricochet (click the link), a dog with an engaging spirit, against the backdrop of the song, “Do I Make You Proud,” by Taylor Hicks.
(To read the lyrics for Do I Make You Proud by Taylor Hicks, click the link.)