Just Be Yourself?
With two boys at home, I have the painful privilege of watching Hollywood kid films such as How to Tame a Dragon and Brave on repeat. I’ve noticed a running theme in these movies that we didn’t get growing up. The message? “Be yourself, no matter what other people think – even your own parents.”
Take the relationship between Hiccup and his father, Stoick, in How to Tame a Dragan. Hiccup doesn’t want to be what his father wants him to and yet he doesn’t want to let his father down. While Hiccup feels the pressure of wanting to live up to his father’s expectations, by the end, Stoick finally accepts Hiccup as he is and even learns to appreciate their differences.
Similarly, in Kung Fu Panda, Po pursues the path he chooses for himself despite the disapproval of his adoptive father. By the end, Mr Ping accepts Po and where his passion leads him.
In Brave, Queen Elinor loves her daughter Merida but goes to great lengths to thwart and dismiss Merida's desires for the life she wants for herself. But, of course, it’s a happy ending for everyone.
In Mulan, the heroine refuses to fit into cultural stereotypes. The film shows the reality of worrying about social pressures, family expectations and gender inequality.
These movies tell our kids to discover themselves, be true to whatever it is they discover and then follow their hearts. But this isn’t the message we get in our everyday lives: in fact, we’re often told to be anything but ourselves.
Culturally, we are raised to conform to our parent’s expectations and adopt societal norms. Our child shows a natural inclination to music and the arts, but we force them to the sciences. A girl hates to wear dresses, but we put her in one anyway. Our son shows no interest in getting married, yet we pester him every day to “settle down”. Instead of being encouraged to pursue our dreams, we’re often shot down at every turn. Differences are not valued nor understood as they are in the movies our kids are watching.
Our children don’t always turn out the way we hope or expect. The way I see it, part of my job as a parent is to study my children, determine their strengths and their gifts and nurture their interests. I don’t let my hopes for their futures cloud the vision that is naturally growing in them. I know that perfect scores at school won’t determine my children’s success and happiness in life. I want to help them be true to who they are, discover their callings in life and explore and pursue them. It’s the only way I see them developing, learning and growing from their mistakes and contributing freely and fully to our world.
I Ask the Expert
Child Development & Parenting Specialist Sirsa Qursha
Q: Are children exactly how they should be at a given point in time and will learn from the natural consequences of their choices or are children moulded by parental influence and it is our job to teach them how to be in this world?
Qursha: Parents often forget that children are born with “pre-set” temperaments and abilities. Nevertheless, over the course of development, children also change due to influences from their environment (be it parenting and cultural influences or life experiences). It’s key that parents realise two very important things; accepting your child for who he is, unconditionally, is paramount. It’s the building block of a positive sense of self for your child. The other important factor to consider is the need to parent consciously, realising how our actions and reactions to our children shape their everyday development. Whether it’s accepting your child with a severe developmental delay or a defiant child who is quite headstrong, the secret of good parenting is embracing differences and assisting your child in realising his full potential – not your own version of that potential.