Parents have many wishes for their children. But what should we prioritise?
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Once upon a time
A fable for parents by Dr Koa Whittingham
Once upon a time there lived three happily married couples. The couples were good friends so it was a happy discovery that all three wives were with child at the same time. As the months went by, three pregnant bellies began to swell and the three couples became increasingly excited. All three couples were determined to do the best by their child.
Towards the end of the pregnancies, when all three couples were excitedly awaiting the arrival of their babies, a stranger came to visit. The visitor was tall and strong with gleaming snow-white skin and piercing blue eyes. He was dressed in a most peculiar way, a garment that looked like a dress, except that it was bright and shiny and seemed to shift and flow of its own accord. Certainly, the stranger was not of this world. “Oh, an angel!” the husband of the first couple cried and his wife nodded vigorously. “A faerie…” the wife of the second couple whispered and her husband nodded, awestruck. “A wizard?” the husband of the third couple asked and his wife shrugged, “Maybe…”
The visitor spoke, “I’ve come to offer each of you a wish, a wish for your child. Whatever you wish for today will come true.”
“Are you a wizard?” the husband of the third couple asked.
“No questions about me. Just the wish,” the visitor answered.
“Well, how does this wish work?” the wife of the second couple asked.
“You choose a particular characteristic that you wish for your child, a characteristic that you, as parents, can foster. From today onwards, your parenting will be guided towards enhancing that characteristic.”
The husband of the first couple frowned, “But we all want our children to have many characteristics, don’t we? Why do we have to pick just one?”
“You don’t have to pick anything,” the visitor answered, “I’m offering you the opportunity to receive guidance in enhancing one particular characteristic. Your children we still develop many characteristics and you’ll still be able to choose what you do as parents at any given moment. But you’ll be able to sense, you’ll just know, what action to take as a parent in order to enhance the particular characteristic that you’ve chosen. ”
“I’m not sure about this,” the wife of the third couple said, “I’ve read fairy tales. There’s usually a catch with wishes, isn’t there? Maybe we shouldn’t wish at all.”
The visitor shrugged, “Suit yourself but be honest, you’ve already got priorities, haven’t you? All you have to do is name your top priority and you’ll be guided toward it. But if you’d prefer to parent blind…”
“Hmm…” the husband of the third couple frowned, “When you put it like that…”
“It sounds like a brilliant opportunity…” the husband of the second couple finished.
“Well,” the wife of the first couple said, “I think I know what we should wish for. If we wish for obedience then we can easily shape our child in other ways, too. They’ll have whatever characteristics we want! What do you think, dear?”
The husband of the first couple nodded enthusiastically, “Yes that’s fantastic! Very clever, dear.”
The strange visitor nodded, “Obedience.”
“Well, I think we should wish for independence,” the husband of the second couple said thoughtfully, “Ultimately, that’s what we are trying to do as parents, isn’t it, to raise an independent, self-sufficient adult? So let’s focus on that.”
The wife of the second couple nodded, “Yes, that makes sense. Plus, the sooner our child is independent the sooner we’ll get our own lives back. We’ll be able to be even better parents then, won’t we?”
The strange visitor nodded again, “Independence.”
The wife of the third couple frowned, “Well, I don’t know about this at all. I want to just love my child exactly as they are.”
Her husband shook his head, “Of course we’ll love our little one. But surely we do want to encourage our child in a particular direction? After all we want our child to be happy.”
“Yes,” agreed the wife of the first couple, “We all want to love our children. But what characteristics do you want to foster in your child? What is your priority there?”
The wife of the third couple thought about this carefully, “Well, I guess, I want our child to know that we love them. I want our child to know, deep within, just how much they are loved and to know that we’ll always be there for them. That’s my priority.”
Her husband smiled, “Yes, I like that. That’s my priority too. It’s perfect.”
The wife turned towards the visitor, “We wish that our child will know that they are loved.”
The strange visitor smiled, “Love. It is done.” And just like that he was gone.
All three wives gave birth to healthy babies, time passed and the babies grew into children, and the children grew into adolescents and the adolescents grew into adults, and sure enough, the wishes came true.
The first couple, whose first priority was obedience, parented in a way that encouraged obedience in their daughter. Their daughter was incredibly obedient. They were quietly pleased with themselves, thinking that they had made the best wish. But as their child grew into an adolescent, she formed deep friendships, as adolescents do, and her parents found, to their horror, that she obeyed her friends as well. As she grew into a young woman, she met a man and fell in love. Her love was a good man but she devoted herself to him so selflessly that, although he was a good man, many of her needs went unmet, for she had learnt that her needs were unimportant and that complete obedience is the price of love. Eventually, the first couple eventually realised that they didn’t know their daughter at all. They had been so determined to bend her to their will that they had never taken the time to discover their daughter’s will.
The second couple, whose first priority was independence, parented in a way that encouraged independence and self-sufficiency in their son. Their son was independent and self-sufficient at an incredibly early age. Every milestone was met early and his needs were few. The second couple got their own lives back very quickly and they were quietly pleased with themselves, thinking that they had made the best wish. But as their son grew into adolescence, he began to make important life decisions and, to their horror, he did this with a foolhardy independence. He was not interested in the advice or support of others. In fact, he wasn’t interested in building lasting relationships with others at all, for he had learnt that he could rely only on himself. Eventually, the second couple realised that they didn’t know their son at all. They had been so determined to raise a self-sufficient child that they had never spent enough time supporting their son to understand his needs.
The third couple, whose first priority was love, parented in a way that showed their daughter that they loved her and were there for her. Their daughter knew, through and through, that she was loved. There were times when she was wilful and determined to get her own way, times when she was kind and gentle, times when she was independent and times when she was needy. As their daughter grew into an adolescent, she formed deep friendships and began to make important life decisions and, to their pleasure, they were still a part of her life. She sought advice and support in her life goals and took risks achieving her dreams, for she had learnt that her dreams were important and that other people could be trusted for support. As she became a young woman, she met a man and fell in love. To their pleasure, she expected her love to treat her with love and respect and to always be there for her, as she was for him. A loving, strong relationship blossomed, for she had learnt that she was deserving of love. There were good days and bad days, there were proud moments and terrible mistakes and she shared it all with her parents, for she had learnt that they loved her, that they could be trusted and that they had her best interests at heart. Eventually, the third couple realised that they knew their daughter through and through, her strengths and her weaknesses. They had spent so much time just being there for her that they understood and loved her as a whole person and this was the greatest reward.
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Koa’s fables for parents are written to inspire vital living and loving, responsive parenting as based on the latest research, her clinical experience as a psychologist and her own experiences as a mum.