Future Reflections March/ April 1983, Vol. 2 No. 2
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By John Cheadle
Our expectations of our children have a lot to do with the way they, and we, grow up. Generally we expect our child to be superb in all endeavors. While they are still infants we are confident that they'll learn to walk sooner than most babies, to talk sooner and to master their numbers sooner. We envision them as King or Queen of their High School Homecoming. They're bound to be the star quarterback or make the Dean's list in college. And of course, they will make profound contributions to their vocational field. We also expect (sprite naturally^ that our grandchildren will outshine our children. This provides us the opportmir ty to correct out eariier imstadiies, Yfros raaranag that our children's failure to meet our expectations will not be repeated with our grandchildren.
Fortunately, we're allowed some glimpses at our vanity as we raise our children. We come to realize through passing experiences that most of our expectations will not be met. Even so we still enjoy those fantasies. As we gain experience and come to know our children better we modify our expectations of them. It is a process of adjustment that ebbs and flows between us and our children as our experiences together proceed. So long as these "adjustments" are within what we consider to be "normal" standards our reactions will probably also be within normal standards; the process will stay in balance and we'll still be pleased as punch with our progeny. Somewhere along the line we'll realize that our child probably will not become President of the United States--maybe a senator, though. When we realize that our child is not going to meet an expectation of ours we have usually already adjusted to it! That is, since no single factor makes up the entirety of success, we adjust over a relatively ling period of discovery. This process also works conversely -- and this is perhaps the most exciting and rewarding aspect of being a parent. As we discover skills, abilities, and interests our children possess, we begin to define and establish expectations based on these discoveries. When these two processes combine, our vanity (ever so slight though it is) loses ground to reality--our pride, however, need not waver. I have said all of this to provide a foundation by which we can explore our expectations of our blind children. The process of discovery and growth is no different for us or for them.
We err grieviously when we do not allow the process of discovery to occur because we impose limitations on our child. We are all guilty alfflH score vxteisV, -w&h a& v>i \>\a «.Y&dr«a. Hv^^fl because of the erroneous beliefs we've li^| regarding blindness, we often short dfl ourselves and our blind children. We muifl ever-vigilant against allowing false beliaifl modify our expectations.
I have always been quite handy around the home --at east in terms of my ability to build and repair things. A couple of years ago I was beginning to teach John Earl, our oldest son who is sighted, how to pound nails. Our son, Chaz, who is ten months younger and has very little vision, also wanted to learn. I set up some pine boards, gave each of them a handful of nails and a hammer and showed them how to start and drive the nail. Then I went back to what I was working on and left them to practice. I found myself checking frequently on Chaz, and far less often on John Earl. Why? Because I believed his vision would not allow him to learn as efficiently! To further compound things, I looked for problems based on this erroneous assumption. Shortly after the boys got started I checked on Chaz. He was just starting to pound another nail. His head was down close to the work so that his eye was about two inches from the nail. He was gripping the hammer handle just behind the head of the hammer, and not having much success at getting the nail to go into the wood. My immediate analysis was that he was having problems because of his vision. I went over to him and spent a good deal of time "resolving" the problem by showing him how to hold the hammer at the end of the handle, how to locate the head of the nail by touch, how to tap the nail to get it started, and, finally, how to drive the nail. I felt quite proud of myself for being patient with him and not allowing his blindness to prevent him from learning to pound nails.
A few minutes later I checked on him again. There he was, just like the last time, his eye close to the nail, his grip just behind the hammer's head, and not having much success. I reminded him of the instructional benefit he had just received and suggested that he take advantage of it. Then I checked on John Earl's progress. There he was, head close to the nail, gripping the hammer handle just behind the head and not having much success. I felt some foolish for having dealt with Chaz the way I had, though I wasn't quite sure what the real problem was. I went to John Earl and worked with him for awhile. Both boys made some progress that day, but I believe that dad made the most as a result of the experience.
I spent a considerable amount of time reviewing that experience over the next few days. The experience humbled me some and, therefore, gave me the opportunity to learn a great deal about myself and my children. Like most people, I had believed that loss of vision would make even the simplest of tasks more difficult. Therefore, I zeroed in on that factor as soon as I discovered that Chaz wasn't pounding nails with the proficiency of a journeyman carpenter. The fact was that pounding nails required a combination of skills -- skills that for the most part he hadn't had the opportunity to learn. Accuracy at a distance, leverage, force, alignment and the ability to integrate all of these were required. But, in my own prideful way I had overlooked these and believed lack of vision was responsible. The biggest error, however, was what I inadvertently taught Chaz about blindness. The approach that I took taught him that the problems he was having were due to his vision and, therefore prevented his attention to the development of the real skills involved.
Expectations go far beyond particular learning events. We, as fathers, want our children to excell in certain areas. Usually these are areas in which we have a high interest; mechanics, academic achievement, music, hunting or fishing and sports are but a few examples. Here, too, we must be vigilant so that neither our misconceptions nor our pride endanger our child's full development.
As I said earlier, I take pride in my abilities as a handyman and I would like my children to excell in this area. Earlier on in raising our boys I came to realize that they might not meet my expectations. I wanted to be able to teach them all I could, to have them become reflections of me. Both of the boys have offered me fine opportunities to teach them what I can, but disappoitment has also surfaced because of their disinterest in certain activities. It became evident quite early that John Earl wasn't going to take an interest in home repair. He would spend some time with me in the workshop or when I was working on the car, but very shortly after we'd get started on a project, something else would attract his interest and before I knew it he was gone. Chaz, on the other hand, was always there -- whether invited or not. He was curious about the repair projects, the tools being used, and the reasons I was doing what I was doing. His curiosity and interest often got in my way. His "assistance" sometimes required that I spend extra time to complete the task, but it was time from which we mutually benefited. Gardening was the other way around. Chaz could see no purpose whatsoever in doing anything in the dirt except getting dirty. John Earl, however, wanted to know everything. Here, too, tasks often required extra time -- on more than one occasion the little gardner would prepare the soil after I had planted the seeds.
I have also been delighted with learning about areas that they are interested in -- areas that I had not pursued actively and probably wouldn't have if the boys hadn't shown an interest. John Earl, at the age of six, has become quite a zoologist and has piqued my interest in nature. Chaz, at the age of five, had become a railroad enthusiast and we spend many hours learning all about trains. It is evident to me that we will have precious little time to fulfill all of our expectations. While Chaz may never acquire the knowledge and skills of gardening that I would have liked, I doubt that I will meet his expectations in railroading. And, while John Earl may never become a master of home repair, I will probably not fulfill his expectations in the area of zoology. But we will --all of us --have a great time teaching each other.
Blindness is a physical characteristic, and, like any other physical characteristic it may have some effect on what interests a person develops. It will not, however, be the predominate factor in determining interests or in achieving or failing to achieve expectations. The real villian of expectations is our attitude and the attitude we teach our children.
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