How a Parent Makes or Breaks a Child’s Dream

We have an abundance of persimmons this year and I remarked to the father-in-law about how I wanted to make hoshigaki, using the traditional method. Hoshigaki are peeled persimmons that you hang up to sun-dry for four to seven weeks (depending on climate/weather), and then you have to massage every persimmon weekly so it ferments evenly and the natural sugars get coaxed up to the surface of the fruit, forming this light dusting of finely crystallized sugar dust.

Is it magic or chemistry? I’m not quite sure. =) Meanwhile the fruit becomes deliciously gummy, like chewy candy. It is one of the sweetest and most delectable desserts you can have.

Immediately, before I could even complete my explanation of the process, the father-in-law shot the idea down, listing out all the ways this could go wrong, all the reasons this is not worth the trouble, just one negative statement after another.

This is his personality, his habit. He’s been doing this to James since hubby was a boy. If you’re sparked by an idea that’s just slightly more labor-intensive or slightly more aspirational than ordinary, the father-in-law’s immediate response is to shoot down the idea and be really negative about all the ways this is stupid.

Oh and if you haven’t guessed already, this is a personal blog post. Not in any way tarot, esoterica, or “in line with my branding” related. Just me sharing what’s actually been on my mind as of late, and ranting.

The FIL’s attitude toward life is in stark contrast to the parenting I received growing up. I could light up with the craziest idea and both of my parents, either one of them, would cheer me on and say, “Go for it!”

Of course they’d lovingly guide me to be prudent and offer gentle recommendations. But I distinctly remember feeling like nothing was impossible for me, exactly because my own parents believed my potential was limitless.

So as I was tying up the persimmons with twine, the FIL would bark, your knots are too loose, the fruits are going to fall through, plop to the ground, and make a big mess. This whole area is going to be just plops of smashed fruit pulp, a big mess somebody’s gonna have to clean up. You’re not a farmer, you’re a city girl lawyer. You don’t know what you’re doing. This is completely not worth your trouble.

I thought fondly of my own parents, and what they would have done. My mom would have asked ever so sweetly, “Mei-ah (a term of affection), you think those knots will hold?” And if I said, “Yes, Mom, I think so.” She’d nod and say, “Okay.” Then lean in to my dad and whisper, “Make sure you know where she keeps the mops and cleaning supplies.”

And because I’ve learned how my parents are, I value their advice and will always ask for it. So if Mom had said, “You think those knots will hold?” I’d immediately take pause and solicit her advice. “What are you thinking? What should I do? Please help.”

With a parent who is always negative toward you and thinking the worst, kids develop these self-defense mechanisms to protect their dreams. So they immediately push back without even thinking whether there’s any prudence to what the negative parent is hawking about. They resist parental advice because they’ve had to learn that their parents are always trying to shoot down their dreams, and the only way to protect those dreams is to build a shield around them… a shield keeping the parents out.

At first, in an effort to bond with the FIL, I’d share my progress and thoughts re: the hoshigaki process. But every time I brought up the persimmons, he’d get really negative. He tells you all the ways you’re probably doing it wrong. And then he tells you you’re wasting your time. The end result isn’t even worth the time and trouble.

So I’ve stopped sharing my progress with him. I feel like I have to guard and protect this little dream just to block out his negativity. And that means I can’t talk to him about it. I can’t and don’t ask for his advice, even though I know he’s a farmer and could probably give great input. That means this possible way of bonding with him has been taken off the table.

And I wonder how often this happens to others, between parents like FIL and their children.

This is not to say my parents weren’t your typical Asian “tiger parents.” They definitely were, in many respects. They didn’t exactly support my teenage dreams of going to art school, and then after graduating from college, they didn’t exactly support my young adult dreams of getting an MFA instead of a JD.

But it’s nuanced. My parents never discouraged my pursuit of art. As a teenager, when I transformed my room into an art studio, outfitted with tarp covering the floor, easel, DIY-ed my own lightbox, or needed a ride to the arts and crafts store every weekend to buy more paint, they were cool with it.

My father emphatically encouraged experimentation. Take creative risks. Risk failure. Try something new. Be bold, dauntless. [But you still have to go to law school…]

Passion fruits are not easy to de-seed and neither Hubby nor FIL enjoy eating them fresh. We had a batch that were about to go bad. I raised the idea of wanting to experiment and bake a passion fruit cake. But I’ve never made one before, so I sheepishly acknowledged, not sure how mine will turn out.

Immediately FIL said no, don’t do it then. If you don’t know how to do it, then don’t do it. Better to just force-eat the rest of these overripe fruits than to put in all that time and effort making something that might fail, and waste the fruit, waste your time, waste the ingredients. It’s not worth the trouble.

I looked over at James and in that moment saw, painfully clear, why there was such a sharp contrast to how he turned out and how I turned out, why he is so afraid of creative risk, why he is such a “bird in hand” kinda guy, and why I’m a dreamer.

If there is a risk of failure, FIL will simply settle for less. That’s his philosophy of life. If he’s never done it before and there is no assurance of success, he won’t do it.

Decades ago when J and I were much younger and had our whole lives ahead of us, we were at the kitchen table with his parents. J brought up some adventurous entrepreneurial idea, I forget what now, and made a half-kidding aspirational comment about overnight success, finding his fortune and becoming wealthy. I’ll never forget this–

The FIL made the most glowering face and shot down his son’s idea. “People like us never become wealthy overnight like that so get those stupid ideas out of your head. We are not the kind of people who become rich. Just study hard, work hard, and save money. Don’t be stupid like that.”

I was so shocked that in the moment I lost the ability to function. Having to recall that moment again to write this out breaks my heart all over.

That night when the two of us were alone, I felt weirdly obligated to do some aggressive de-programming. I outright told J that his father is wrong. Flat out totally utterly irrefutably wrong. No one– no one— is stuck fated to be any sort of way, least of all someone with as many skills and ingenuity and determination as him.

On one hand, I think I can see where parents like the FIL are coming from. They truly believe they are doing it for the kid’s own good, that they’re protecting their kid. In their own way, they are trying to make sure their kid will be all right, and won’t end up disastrously losing it all.

But that’s how generations get trapped in a closed loop repeating the same mistakes over again, unable to break self-limiting cycles.

When the FIL first moved in to our home, J kept his distance, told me to keep my distance, and said we are just going to try to coexist on different floors under the same roof, we’ll minimize contact, and our job is basically to just keep him alive.

I was so confused. On one hand, moving his father into our home was clearly an act of love and filial piety. On the other, I felt like J was wrong and being a bad son. Your job–and duty– is so much more than merely “keeping someone alive.”

Now I realize it’s a defense mechanism he’s had to build for himself. Because if he didn’t keep his distance, all that negativity would end up hurting his own aspirations.

And it’s heartbreaking when a parent unintentionally breaks a child’s dreams.

I recognize that FIL is coming from a loving place. He wants to protect my emotions. He fears that I’m too excited about the prospects of successful dried persimmons. And if they do end up falling off the twine, plopping, splattering, and making a mess, I’ll be sad. He truly, sincerely does not want to see me sad.

When he shot down J’s tongue-in-cheek get-rich-quick idea, he believed it was for the best. He didn’t want to see J set himself up for failure or disappointment. “Study hard, work hard, save money” is the least risky and most assured path there is.

Parents are going to both love and fear. But which emotion the parent lets govern the parenting style will make all the difference.

9 thoughts on “How a Parent Makes or Breaks a Child’s Dream

  1. Benebell, you have no idea how this struck a chord. My housemate must have grown up in such a home. When I say, I’m going to be an international best selling author, or make a video, etc., same thing “Tell me about it when it happens. Lotsa luck”. My own family never said I COULDN’T be or do something, but they always seemed shocked when I pulled it off. REALLY shocked. My late husband would sometimes encourage me, but if he saw me starting to get attention, all hell would break loose and the rage attacks would start.
    I think your candy will be the best ever and you need not concern yourself if one falls to the floor for the rest will be incredible!
    I have shared this with a friend who lives in Albuquerque who also has posted she has way too many persimmons to eat this year!
    Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. tabithaweber

    Thank you for sharing this story. I have 4 children and needed to be reminded how easy it is to destroy our children’s dreams and aspirations. I wanna be the best parent I can. I won’t lie. I worry for their future. Will they be financially well off? Will they struggle in poverty like me? It’s so hard to know the best way to support our children. But I’m the end I feel like parents are here to support our children and theirs dreams and if things don’t work out the way they hoped then I’ll be here to support that too.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sally

    Such good advice for parents! I have a friend whose son finally—as an adult—told her ‘please quit saying all those negative things to me in response to my ideas/activities’. She thought she was offering a ‘realistic’ attitude but in truth he felt shot down. She took it to heart.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for sharing this. Trying to protect my grown up children from what may be heartbreak is a knee jerk reaction that I have been taming for the last several years. This writing encourages me to keep vigilant of what I say. Words do make a difference and yes, they can hurt.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Angel

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I have a similar situation to yours where my parents were very supporting of my dreams. I was allowed and encouraged to dream, and they were also there to give me advice to be prepared if things don’t go as planned. I found it to be such a loving environment, my heart felt happy and free to dream and see possibilities and beauty everywhere. My FIL however is just like yours, and as a result,y husband is very much like him. My husband and I clash a lot in this perspective, and I find it difficult for me to deal with the constant negativity. I know that he comes from a space of wanting to protect and keep safe, but for me it’s hurtful and suffocating. Hopefully we can work through this and we can find a happy medium, the way that you seem to have.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Shelly

    Your blog post is an inspiration to me about aspirations and determination for oneself. My parents are closely like that your FIL, not a word of encouragement. I guess that’s how they grew up, if they say good things, the kids will have “big head” mentality or they set up a bar so high such, “ other kids have awards and is on top of the class! What about you?” I had to struggle for myself a lot in this life. Thank you so much for your post. It gives me encouragement not to stop in pursuing my dreams.

    For my youngest daughter who’s worried about I’m still paying for the student loans of her 2 sisters, so she’s not going to med school, I told her, just follow your interest, passion and dreams, I’ll help you pay your school loans too.

    The sacrifices of being a parent!!!

    Like

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