When you buy a book at Powerbooks bookstore, your purchase often comes with a free magazine. Sometimes, it’s the in-house publication which contains a list and reviews of new book titles. Last Sunday, it was a parenting magazine with Lea Salonga on the cover and a snippet from the article she wrote that advises parents to encourage their children to pursue their passion.
Lea’s article touched me in a big way because I am at that stage in my life when the belief that parents should respect and encourage their children’s career decisions will mean financial management that may be nothing short of magical. Our firstborn, Sam, is off to college. Her passion is photography and when she announced some two years ago that she intended to pursue photography as a profession, I applauded and cheered. I passed on my first dSLR camera to her and have since given her a couple of lenses.
The problem is that there is only one university that offers a bachelor’s program in photography and the tuition almost made me faint. We’re not rich but we want her to have a good shot at making her dreams come true. A happy person is a productive person and a person allowed to turn his or her passion into a living will have a chance to spend the rest of his life become even better at doing what he loves most. Conversely, forcing someone to perform a task that he or she has no passion for often leads to mediocre results. If you’re a human resources manager or a business owner and you’re wondering why your employees are performing poorly, the first question you need to ask is whether they love what they’re doing or whether they just aren’t in any position to do what they are truly passionate about.
We’re parents. We want our children not only to become financially independent in their adult life but also to be happy persons—happy with their work, happy with their achievements, happy to be in a situation where they can stretch their creativity to limitless bounds. So, we gave in. Tuition expensive? If Pacific Plans hadn’t reneged on the traditional policies, things would be easier for us. But we’ll manage. That’s confidence and hopefulness and resolve to do more work, if necessary, to earn more to afford the school. And it’s not like we’re making a huge sacrifice. It’s not like we’re making ourselves out as martyrs. We’re just being responsible and supportive parents.
All this brought a flood of memories. I grew up in a generation where parents could be dictatorial about what profession their children should pursue. Not as bad as the generation before mine where, by tradition, a family must produce a doctor, a priest, a lawyer and a teacher—the latter, a profession normally assigned to daughters. Still, it was bad for me because I was inclined toward the arts and languages, believe it or not, and my first choices for my college course were Theater Arts and European Languages.
I don’t know if you can picture it but my parents raised hell especially about the Theater Arts part. And what was I going to be—an actress? And the litany would start about actresses being nothing better than whores because they sleep with producers and directors to get good roles, a stereotype based on a singular experience of my mother who saw her uncle (a movie producer) slap some famous actress on her behind. The nuances of sexual harassment were unknown at the time. If they weren’t, perhaps my mother would have realized that the whoring-to-get-a-job phenomenon could happen in ANY profession.
To this day, I wonder what I would have become, how far the stars I would have reached, had I been allowed to follow my dreams early on. Not that I’m unhappy with the stars I have managed to reach, and I do intend to reach more, but what if I had been allowed to fly and soar to explore my chosen corner of the sky much, much earlier without fear and guilt that I would make my parents unhappy?
Children are individuals. They are not extensions of their parents. They have a right to choose their own path and live their chosen lives. It isn’t even correct to say that we parents can only show them the path but it is they that will have to walk through it. No, it’s beyond that. We parents can only show our children that there are many paths, that they all lead to different things, that all those paths are open and we will do nothing to set up any road blocks. They will have to choose which to take and walk through.
In the final analysis, a parent’s ability to allow a child to choose his or her path, and be supportive of that choice, has to do with respect. If we respect our children as individuals, if we respect their right to make decisions for themselves, then we won’t have any difficulty in encouraging them to pursue their passion and follow their dreams.