Anchoring dreams to reality is best gift for our children
By: By GLENDA H. CAUDLE Special Features Editor
Our efforts were fatally flawed.
We heeded the “feel good at all costs” advice of child care experts with books to sell and latent flower children caught up in the “Imagine” wistfulness of a John Lennon song and television talk show experts with interest groups to placate.
And we told our children (our students, our youthful protégés) they could be anything they desired to be.
We wanted the next generation to be confident, to dream “large,” to reach for the stars. We wanted them to be free of the restraints of prejudice. We wanted to expand their horizons. We wanted them to see every possibility as attainable. We wanted them to “have it all,” perhaps so we could soothe our own hurts and disappointments and failures as we basked in their success.
And our dreams for them — whether they were governed by our own parental visions of their blissfully “fulfilled” futures or by the political agenda of some group such as the feminists — blinded us to the imperative of telling them the whole story.
So we sold our children a bill of goods that may well bankrupt some of them economically, morally, politically, socially and spiritually.
We made it sound easy — as though the ability to dream grand dreams was the only imperative.
Failure to reach the top of the heap, then (it must follow logically) can only be attributed to their own inability to believe strongly enough in themselves. Or to the emergence of roadblocks on the highway to success thrown up by someone with a differing political agenda. Or to a corrupt and restrictive social system that refuses to support the dream sufficiently.
We barely whispered — if we voiced the distressingly puritanical truth at all — that some measure of ability and a large dose of effort would be required to see the dream through.
Do you begin to understand the problem we have created?
Encouraging our children to dream was a gift worth giving.
But we booby-trapped the beautifully wrapped present when we held on to the secrets to real success: the ability to determine what truly constitues achievement and the determination to work hard to attain goals.
Too many parents assured their sons and daughters they could dream themselves into super-stardom and neglected to mention there was more to life than a name up in lights. Too many teachers smiled beningly on mediocre effort and gave the impression it would be sufficient to chart a brilliant course in the real world. Too many pastors preached too many “love is all we need” sermons and skirted the less appealing call to limits on self love and a limit-less love for others.
We set our children free to “soar” into the great beyond as they followed their dreams but far too often failed to give them the essential safety tether that would keep them from drifting into the unknown void and ultimate desolation of “me” space.
We have done them no favors.
Rose-colored dreams disconnected from personal responsibility ultimately become nightmares — theirs and ours.
If we are truly interested in helping our children become all they can be, let’s forget the feel-good platitudes and concentrate on helping them chart courses that will utilize their talents for the good of the community — even the world — in which they live, as well as for their own satisfaction and benefit.
Let’s provide examples of personal integrity by letting them see us treat others the way we want to be treated
Let’s teach them how to cope in the real world by refusing to blame others for our own failures.
Let’s set them up for a strong measure of success in their future relationships by living our own lives so that we balance the competing calls on our time and energy in ways that lovingly put the legitimate needs of those who depend on us ahead of personal preference and pleasure.
Let’s examine honestly, and then seek to overcome, our own prejudices (and everybody has some) and let’s refuse to behave in ways that give credence to someone else’s.
Let’s make sure our children understand that while undeserved blessings may seem to literally fall into their laps from time to time, these are “perks” and they were never intended to take the place of commitment and hard work.
Let’s quietly and consistently insist on effort commensorate with ability. And we will probably be pleasantly surprised to see “ability” increase.
Let’s restore discipline to help our children learn self-discipline.
Let’s insist on respect for those in authority to help our youngsters learn self-respect.
Let’s stop criticizing people we are dependent on to help us raise our children — stop pretending they are too young to hear and understand our barbed comments and muttered curses and character assassinations. Do we really believe we can bad-mouth teachers or pastors or youth workers or police officers or family members and not create a negative impression in our children’s minds that will then provide a rationale for ignoring/disrespecting/disobeying those same people? If we are laboring under these false impressions, we need to ask ourselves how long we will be willing to allow one of these partners in child-rearing to feed our children poisonous assumptions about us.
Let’s be realistic enough to tell our children that dreams don’t always come true — and we ought to be glad some of them don’t.
After all, is there anyone out there who really wants to be raising the world’s next Britney?
Published in The Messenger on 11.02.07