I was once told a story that was concerned with defining how a man (or woman, as the case may be) should view the role of provider to their family. Aside from supplying shelter, food, and clothing, the main objective was described as providing an environment in which someone is able to fulfill their potential.
The potential itself is not important, only that they are encouraged and supported towards that goal. While that may sound like some sort of new age cow manure, or touchy feely liberal sentiment which turns out undisciplined brats, to me it sounded like an awfully large responsibility.
The first thing that anyone needs instilled in them if they are going to accomplish anything is self-discipline. In order for anybody to come anywhere near fulfilling their potential, they will need to be incredibly disciplined, dedicated, and motivated. One lesson they would have to learn is that nobody is going to do the necessary work for them.
Before they would be even able to begin the process they would have to learn how to take responsibility for their actions and decisions, which means someone would have to teach them. That would all be part of providing a person with the means to fulfill their potential.
When I used to teach acting and theatre to young people, it used to surprise so many of them the amount of “non-acting” that went into being an actor. They thought they should be able to get up on stage and start performing without any preparation.
That the first two weeks of a 12-week course was more about understanding your voice and body and freeing your imagination than scripts and scenes, would always come as a shock. But it was a means of instilling in them a sense of all that went into being an actor. It also started to give them an idea of the self-discipline that was needed and how much they would have to be responsible for, if they were serious about going further with it as a career.
But it was the parent’s comments that used to catch me the most off-guard. Things like “she’s never shown the dedication to anything like this before”, or of a student who’d been with us for a couple of sessions, “I can’t believe what a difference there is; he’s never had this amount of self-confidence.”
They’d act like we were some kind of miracle workers, when all we had done was show the students what they needed to do to accomplish something. That they were able to translate that into other aspects of their life only shows how much they had wanted direction, from somewhere, in order to get started.
I often wondered what these parents were doing with their children. We had kids from all walks of life, where only one parent worked, both worked, or neither worked, and it was the same in almost all situations. Interestingly enough, it seemed the kids of single parents (moms and dads) who were the most focused. Perhaps because of their situations, they had already learned to accept some responsibilities.
Of course there were the kids at the opposite end of the spectrum as well — the ones whose parents had scheduled their lives to death so they had no free time at all. They took dance, piano, figure-skating, any class it seemed like their parent could get them into. They had so much going on that they couldn’t focus on anything and were usually the unhappiest young people I’d see.
There wasn’t anything we could do for those kids, because we couldn’t provide them with the nurturing that they needed. It always felt to me that their parents were farming out the responsibility of raising their children to strangers. The kids would be in school on weekdays, and then classes after school, and on weekends they would be in more classes.
When did they ever spend time at home in the company of their parents? Were they ever given the impression that they were an object of affection, or were they just always an object? Without love, all the discipline and responsibility in the world become just so many fetters to be broken later in life.
How many times have you heard a professional athlete talk about how much he or she owes to their parents? How their parent supported them all the way, drove them to their games, provided a safe environment for them to grow up in, and in general offered them an example of how to live a good life.
It seems to be especially prevalent among African American athletes who grew up in some the worst neighbourhoods, that it was their parent or parents who got them through. Sure, it can sound clichéd at times when an athlete thanks his or her parents, but even clichés have a basis, in fact. They’re lives have been shaped by the discipline and desire to achieve their goal, and the fact that there was a parent supporting them as best they could.
I’m sure this is an unfair generalization to make, but I’ve often wondered why it always seems like the people who come up from poorer backgrounds are more inclined to be thanking their families than others. Is it because the parent can afford fewer distractions for their children like games, computers, stereos, and are forced to have a more direct involvement with their kids?
Or do they simply desire a better life for their children than the one they have been forced to live? One of the common themes of the “I owe it all to my parents” speech is sacrifice. The parent so badly wanted their child to have a better life that they gave up having one of their own to ensure that their child had at least a shot at better circumstances in the future.
Obviously, there are occasions where it doesn’t seem to matter what the parent does, and things don’t turn out well for the child, or the child perseveres in spite of the parents. The majority of families, of course, fall somewhere in the middle, neither spectacularly bad nor amazingly special. Most people are just trying to get through as best as they can with bills to pay, mortgages to meet, and jobs to keep while doing the best possible job they can for their kids.
It appears that, in our society, the odds are stacked against being able to develop our supposedly most precious resource. For all that politicians talk about families, what ever they define that as, none of them, no matter what their political affiliation, seem to get the point that the problem goes beyond specific issues.
What little time that parents may have to spend with their families as a whole is useless. If one parent has been working 40 hours during the week prior, they will be too worn out emotionally and physically to be able to commit any resources to their children. What can they offer as guidance except punishment and reward similar to what they receive during the week?
Our carrot and stick way of living doesn’t offer much in the way of nurturing and the only lesson it really instills is “don’t mess up”. How does that provide an environment that enables a person to live up to their potential? When you are taught that the fear of failure far outweighs the risk of exploration, settling for mediocrity seems the best choice.
If a person were to look beyond their parents into the adult world, they see politicians who spend most of their careers making excuses, business people who cut corners, and a general unwillingness to accept responsibility for actions. Everybody always has a finger ready to point at somebody else. It’s the president’s fault, it’s the opposition’s fault, it was my accountant’s fault, but it’s the rare person who says “I’m to blame and I will face the consequences”.
In a world where compassion and caring seem to be fast becoming equated with weakness, and integrity is scarcer than a two-dollar bill, what hope is there for providing for our next generation? With the majority of parents running as fast as they can to just stay in one place, what time do they have to think of the future?
Until our society learns a new means of providing for its people, there is little hope that those who provide for the next generation will be able to live up to the expectations described in the story at the beginning of this article. Considering the demands placed on individuals these days, it is next to impossible to provide anyone with the means of reaching their full potential as a human being.
Is it any wonder that one in four people admit to being on some sort of anti-stress or anti-depression medication? With the level of disappointment so many people are feeling in their lives it shouldn’t be so surprising.