An excellent example of a parent who chose this path presented itself when we were working with a child with multiple physical disabilities. Every night his mother made him climb the stairs for his bath. It was hard. It was a struggle. With every step he would beg her to carry him the rest of the way and she would say no. She watched him do the work. She helped him if he needed it, but she never did it for him. It was grueling for him, both physically and emotionally, but when he got to the top his pride radiated throughout the whole house. He would scream, "I did it! I did it!" announcing his nightly victory over the stairs, and his dad and his siblings would respond from wherever they were in the house, "Good job, buddy!" Mom? She would help him with his bath, help him into bed, and cry herself to sleep. Watching him struggle when she could have so easily carried him up the stairs was hell on her, but she knew that his rewards were twofold. He got the short term reward of pride in a job well done and he also got the long term reward of strengthening his body. Win/win.
Another parent on the other end of the spectrum referred to her child as her "cross to bear" and did everything - and I mean EVERYthing - for a child who was capable of actually doing quite a lot on her own - out of a sense of penance.
Twenty years later I don't have contact with either of those families, but if I had to hazard a guess as to which one was leading a more independent life, I'd put my money on that little guy who climbed the stairs every night. Although the extent of the little girl in the second scenario's disabilities was far less than his, his mother had taught him to be strong where hers had taught her to be weak. When presented with a task, his first answer would probably be a confident, "I can do that!" whereas hers is more likely to be a resigned, "I can't do that."
Her mother thought she was being kind. Her intentions were good. The result was a child who has learned only to ask for help.
Obviously one doesn't have to have a disability to be an "I can do anything" type or a "I can't do anything" type. I drew from what I know for those admittedly extreme examples.
Me? (come on - you KNEW we were gonna talk about me, right?) I was taught that I couldn't do anything. As a child I was rather obedient. I feared authority. If I was told not to do something, as a rule, I didn't do it. Case in point: In fourth grade, my Science teacher had to call my parents because I was so adamant about not lighting matches - which was something we had to do for many of our experiments. I remember being torn. I wanted to follow my teacher's instructions. I was - as we've established - a rule follower and a respecter of authority. But my parents were the ultimate authority and they'd said "never light a match". They'd been very clear on this. So, in an unprecedented move, I defied my teacher. My parents were quite embarrassed when he called and they changed the rule that night to "never light a match unless you are being closely supervised by an adult". That seemed to cover all the necessary bases.
I have never mowed a lawn. Growing up, I was told it was "too dangerous for you". I believed this without question. In the years when I might have been prone to a lawn mowing rebellion, I lived in apartments and it was not a necessity. When I got my first adult lawn, I was married and pregnant. That's no time to learn. Now it's too late. Tom has taught Lea to mow the lawn. I can't watch. There is still a little piece of me that thinks this is a very dangerous activity for a fourteen year old girl.
Even more dangerous than bumper cars.
That's right, bumper cars.
You can get whiplash, you know.
Just ask my parents.
(Avert your eyes from my arms for a second and look at the face of a 44 year old woman in her very first bumper car - 8-15-07)
So you get the idea. I was raised to believe that the world was scary and that I was ill-equipped to handle it. Somewhere along the line - not entirely by choice - I ended up alone in that big wide scary world. And I managed. I managed to drive without getting lost and pay my own bills and matriculate like a mofo and make my own mistakes. Managed? Hell, I thrived. Life was a bumper car ride and I was daring whiplash to catch up to me. I worked and played in the city and could parallel park in three swift moves. If I'd had a lawn, I would've mowed the hell out of it. I lit matches just to smell the sulfur.
I was just that bad.
And now? Now I'm scared again. I'm scared of everything. My confidence is shot.
I hate feeling this way. I don't know what happened. I've lost my mojo. I decided to take action in what will sound like such a small way.
My sister had just cleared some ground and put down some pavers in her front yard. It looks great and it took her less than an afternoon to complete the job. I had something similar in mind in my own back yard on a much smaller scale. I asked if she'd help me do it and she agreed. But she's out of town for two and a half weeks. So I thought to myself, I thought: I can do this without her. I can do it without her and I can do it without Tom and I'll have time left over to run through the house with scissors. Pointed any damn way I please.
That was five days ago.
I don't even have the area excavated, much less the project completed. I spend a good bit of time just looking at the mess I've made and thinking, "what the hell have I done?" followed by "THIS is why I don't take on DIY projects".
Should I keep climbing the stairs? I sure would be proud of that little bit of landscaping... Or should I wait until my sister gets back and humbly turn the job over to her? She'll get it done and it will be nice. I can spend the next two weeks reading on the deck (with my chair turned so that I can't see the mess) and drinking summertime malt beverages. But then I'll have to put the scissors and the matches away and stay clear of the bumper cars.
And I kind of remember loving the bumper cars.
(hmmmm - there's got to be a nature vs nurture post in here somewhere, since my sister grew up with exactly the same parents but a completely different set of issues...)