“Every word, facial expression, gesture, or action on the part of a parent gives the child some message about self-worth. It is sad that so many parents don’t realize what messages they are sending.”
– Virginia Satir
We are born perfect.
What would have happened to us if we had been treated as perfect from that very first day of our lives?
What happens to our world when we treat our children and each other as perfect?
I am respectful of the tremendous angst that accompanies being a parent. In that realm, I can only imagine the challenges someone has when their child is autistic.
This weekend, The New York Times Magazine published an article by Ruth Padawer – “After Autism.” In it, she shares a story of how one in ten autistic children are recovering but no one knows why.
There is a growing awareness that eliminating autism is not the optimal outcome. These children are wired in profoundly different ways and will be throughout their lives. If they have a ten percent chance of outgrowing it, why are we telling the remaining 90%,
“You are not O.K.” or, “I don’t want you to be you?”
In the ’60s and ’70s, similar aversion therapy was used on another audience:
Those with “deviant sex-role behaviors,” included a 4-year-old boy with a “swishy” gait and an aversion to “masculine activities.” According to the therapist’s notes, he was rewarded for “masculine” behavior and punished for “feminine” tendencies. Ultimately, the treatment was deemed a success when the boy was “indistinguishable” from his peers. Later, he came out gay and a few years after that committed suicide.
It is relatively easy to accept that we have much to learn about acceptance and love towards autistic and gay children.
But, home aversion therapy occurs on a scale so large that it has become a way of life.
We routinely push our children to fit-in and to conform. Many of the young people I have had career conversations with disclosed that when it comes to career sensibilities, no one has ever taken them seriously.
A week ago, I was being driven by a auto rental employee to pick up my new car. She was a recent college grad who fell into a management-training job with this international firm. When she discovered who I was, the conversation immediately went into a series of questions such as “What do you think of Google?” She continued with a variety of other employers.
Finally, I stopped her and asked, “Why did you go to college?”
She replied, “To get a degree.”
“So I could get a good job.”
“Who told you to do that?”
“So I could get a job.”
Finally, I asked her, “What do you want to do?”
Her response indicated that no one had ever asked her the question or conditioned her take that question seriously. In fact, she had been conditioned to believe there wasn’t an answer.
Alternatively, some of us developed enough objectivity around our parents that we separated ourselves from what I now refer to as “career aversion therapy.”
Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons, Life in Hell and Futurama said,
“I’m so happy to be making a great living from doing what my parents told me not to do, which is to doodle and daydream.”
One of my acting friends is a big success story – a leading man. His father disowned him for pursuing acting. He insisted that his son pursue financial services because he would always be “secure.” They didn’t speak for years. Recently, his father broke down and revealed that he has always disliked his work and feels he has wasted his life.
Why are so many of us routinely ordering our children to waste their joy and fulfillment on an outmoded idea of predictability, survival and security?
Our children may not be listening to us but they are always watching.
If we are living life fully, if we are developing as individuals, if we live in the practice of love the single biggest indicator that we are succeeding is:
If we were born perfect, wouldn’t that be the natural outcome?
All the best.