If you want your children to succeed, don’t make life easy for them.
I can’t say I didn’t hear the warning in time; I just seem to have ignored it. But I can’t really lay the blame on my own parents.
Thought too young for proper parenthood—Dad was 19; Mom, 16—my paternal grandparents took me under their surrogate care and didn’t release me home until I was ready for high school. Meantime, at my parents’, I was a virtual weekend houseguest. After high school, I left home again, this time for a couple of years of precollege studies in Spain and France. Other children envied my situation as I myself envied theirs, growing up in regular homes, with regular parents, strict parents, not indulgent hosts.
Back in Manila for college and resuming my twice aborted residency with my parents, I lived instinctively under the rules my grandparents had themselves imposed and made up my own rules where there were none—self-imposed curfew, for instance—and took the consequences when I broke them and tried to learn from them on my own.
I hadn’t really seen anything seriously wrong with me coming from such an irregular childhood—until I looked more closely around and saw that my brother, and only sibling, and I didn’t have the same sense of ambition, and the same drive with which they pursued it, as less-indulged children.
Wives less indulged by their husbands, I have also observed, reap similar benefits: They take up some form of career or set up businesses of their own and become financially independent eventually.
It must have all to do with a sense of privation.
Living for the kids
At any rate, habits I had developed on easy street ironically proved disadvantageous. I found myself thinking not only of my children’s comfort. And I see rich examples of myself all around me: parents who seem to work and live only for their children—for their cars, for their Master’s, for their weddings, for their homes.
A couple I know had put a piece of property in the name of each of their three children, all boys, prematurely. The first sold, quit school, took the proceeds, and went into business. The second got married jobless and lived off proceeds from his own sale that were not to last. The third and youngest kept his property but, after his marriage broke up, had to put it up for liquidation and, forthwith, conjugal division.
Just where did we get the idea that parents owed their children so much? A meditation master has had to straighten me out: Parents owe their children only one thing, and it’s not even an education; rather, it’s discipline. Without that, all the education and material security given them can just go to waste. Indeed, discipline builds character, and character is destiny, he further points out.
Alas, it’s not something at all suited to the Filipino tradition of parenting, which not only provides but anticipates not only children’s needs but also their wishes. It’s a tradition that kills discipline precisely as well as the long-paying virtue of delayed gratification.
I myself had bought three engagement rings on installments for my three boys while they were still in school. Only the middle boy got married, and I spent for his wedding, too. He was soon separated. Thinking the rings jinx, I sold the remaining two.
I remained keen to my children’s pre-needs even after my first marriage broke up and very nearly endangered my financial situation—some sense of guilt there, I concede. But I like to think that I know much better now, that I have realized I was taking away from my own children the joy of life’s discoveries and suppressing what passion they need to develop for their own dreams.
To be sure, the process of discovery and dream-pursuit can be not only hard but sometimes, no, oftentimes, extremely trying. But there exactly lies the essence of deserved gratification. I have been there myself, an easy-street kid having to learn by herself—in midlife.
My marriage done, I suddenly had to fend for myself, with no professional work experience, let alone career, to restart. I sold the last tradable possession I had, a piece of property, and bought two smaller ones— one to live in, the other to rent out. But life had only begun teaching me. I lost my dollar-paying tenant—a foreigner whose export business had gone under with the currency crunch—and found no substitute who would pay a reasonably comparable rent.
My second husband, in the meantime, had just himself quit his editor’s job and started freelancing and doing commissioned work. Together we climbed out of our hole. Now recovered, we are able to look back on those “hungry years” romantically.
A modest inheritance for me and a gainful, steady job for him allow us to relax and enjoy moderate thrills.
But I must confess not having fully kicked my habit: I remain, but only moderately, an indulgent grandma—a chocha lola.