Yesterday I posted a quote from Simply Sane where Gerald May wrote about how parents become fixed on methods to build their children rather than on being with them. It may have been helpful to contextualize the passage a bit. Dr. May had written in the chapter about how children develop an image of themselves based upon what they do and what they control. He explained this while also laying out how normal and natural a child’s development is. He made the point that all their lives works doing into them. From their beginnings, they are learning to control things about themselves, their bodies, their actions. He says much of their self-understanding is based upon what they do. He then goes into how parents watch their children and how we also get about doing and controlling—we watch with awe sometimes and with fear at other times.
Of all the questions I’ve been asked as a psychiatrist, the most common and disturbing ones have been about how to raise children. It has always seemed rather strange that people can expect psychiatric training to create an authority on child-raising. It would make much more sense to search out a grandmother whose offspring are living fully and beautifully, and ask her about it all. But parents seem to want methods, and psychotherapy is where the methods are to be found. Complex, sophisticated methods. Grandmothers usually have only a few methods. And they’re usually very simple. Grandmothers often say things like, “Well, I just did the best I could, taught ’em right and trusted in God. And I always made sure they washed behind their ears.” Sane as those words may be, they’re just too simple to satisfy most modern parents’ appetite for techniques. Grandmothers like to see children grow. Method-hungry parents want to see children built.
The more methods we get, the more we feel like we are building our children. And the more we feel like builders, the more methods we want. Even if we use words like “raising” or “growing” rather than “building,” we still feel we are doing the raising. Persisting in the belief that we are growing or raising our children, we shall continue to feel separate from them. They will remain objects for our manipulation. We will be managing their growth process rather than participating in it.
…The natural growth process in children will occur. It will occur, in most cases, in spite of us. Almost no matter what we do, it will happen. We seldom kill our children by trying to grow them. What we do kill is our simple awareness of the natural growth process. Being so interested in taking credit for the growth and carrying the burden of it, we fail to see its wonder.