As I watch our daughter walk across the stage and accept her diploma, I can instantly see a backdrop filled with scenes from her childhood. At two she sneaked up on me while I napped, and bit my nose! At three she fell off a stool and her teeth went through her lower lip; I encouraged her to laugh instead of cry. At four she went to Paris, barely making the plane because of the flu. (Thank you Doctor Jeff!) So on and so forth – so many little incidents that underlie the tapestry that becomes her life, her personality.
Throughout her mother and I have taught her our critical values: keeping a cool head, flexibility, non-judgmental, enjoying good food, foreign ways, and frugality. We also taught her the importance of being a good citizen, but that’s for another day.
We didn’t teach her these in school, we taught her through daily example. In each of the significant events of her past, we lived our values; and through living, passed them on to her.
Our daughter is grown, but we know of others. One friend has a beautiful daughter who is being taught values that we know, as adults, will cause her great pain. Her mother is smart, beautiful, has a voice like an angel, and is a good friend. She also knows that her neuroses regarding time, cleanliness, and order, are damaging to herself. But we don’t know if she knows that she is now passing these same neuroses onto her daughter.
Yes, we’ve tried to say something. Yes, we have tried to set a good example. Yet each time the “intervention” has ended very badly.
At the tender age of four, our little friend greeted my wife at the door with “You’re late!” I have seen our tiny friend take great care to make sure her things are in the proper order when she’s done with them. I suggest that she doesn’t have to do these things, yet she does.
The reason she does these things is that she loves her mother, without question, with only the purest sort of love that a child can feel for a parent. And she knows that her mother’s love is contingent on order, on timeliness, and other things we can only guess. The mother is in the process of creating a young woman who will have to try and conquer many of the same fears as she. Extra challenges in a world already full of challenge.
Will the day ever come when parents are so understanding of their own behavior that they can choose not to pass on their own neuroses?