I write this through the prism of one whose childhood was not cut short, but was delayed and acted out later at an inappropriate time in life.
Children should be children. Otherwise, they might act out their childhood at a later date when it is already inappropriate to be a child.
My delayed experience of childhood did not debilitate me much. I was, after all, able to correct it, acting out my childhood through my adolescence and early adulthood years. However, the cause of that delayed childhood did. For ever since after, my drive to be the best never returned. (and I was a pathological perfectionist when I was a child. I would cry if I got a grade lower than A. And I would cry, not because I feared my parents’ reaction, but because I totally hated myself for not being perfect) I was, and still am, a chronic underachiever.
So what changed? What made me a totally laid back guy that is more than content to be average, or even worse, just totally subsist? What made me refuse to grab the greatness that is rightfully mine (and still continue to make me refuse, however this time for a different reason)?
Please understand that I write this not as a condemnation, but as a forgiveness letter. For one of the best things to have happened to me as a parent is seeing through the eyes of a parent.
As a child, one of the things I hated was enforced study time AT HOME. It galled me for a few reasons. One, I was intelligent and sharp enough to learn school work in class. If the teacher taught it, that means I knew it. Studying at home for me meant a waste of time, and an insult. An indirect accusation that I am too slow to learn at school. Doing homework for me was fine. It was after all, required school work. But study time? I spent 8 hours in school! Only a fool would waste 8 hours of his time and then waste another 8 hours of his time doing what he could’ve done at school. And I was not one of those fools.
Another reason why it galled me was that it took away my free time, which I valued most highly because I saw it as a reward for being good in school. I listened to my teachers, did all the class work diligently, and did not waste time in school. Free time is supposed to be my reward for not having wasted my time in school. So I saw enforced study time at home as a punishment for a good deed done. Why are you stealing my time? The reason I behaved at school was so I could have free time at home. If you would take that away, then why the fuck am I working my ass off for work that I would do again later at home?
So when I realized that I would not be allowed to enjoy my free time, I used my time in school as my free time, and did school work at home as the adults wanted. It was a stupid waste of time. But it was also very rewarding. It meant I can live as a kid, instead of an adult with a 9 to 5 job. That to me was more precious than the accolades they gave out to other kids who did as they were told. While I went further and further down the honor roll, I gained more and more friends. My number of friends was inversely proportional to my academic achievement. It’s a terrible cliche, but it held true in my case. Strangely enough, I felt rewarded. Gone was that feeling of self-hate for having underachieved.
The damage was not in taking away my free time. After all, my free time could’ve been taken away and I would still have turned out fine if only that action was not associated with achievement. As it was, as I achieved more, I was restricted more.
I wasn’t always restricted with my time, you see. As a toddler, I played freely. But as I grew up and my latent intelligence became evident, my mother became more stingy with play time. It was a maddening cause and effect situation. The more I achieved, the more I was imprisoned. Until of course, as anyone with intelligence can foresee, there lay only one recourse available.
To be free, I had to stop achieving.
A cautionary tale for parents of gifted children. Do not drive your children so hard that they would look at achieving with hate and scorn. Do not give them cause to be unhappy with excellence. They were born gifted for a reason. Inborn in them is a drive to succeed, to excel, to defeat every opponent. You are only killing that drive if you push them yourselves. Allow them to grow with watchful eyes but not with a heavy hand.
If you’re wondering, I still have that drive. Deep inside me I still wish to excel, to succeed, to defeat every idiot standing on the world stage moving the world with their idiotic policies. But for the nonce, I have stayed my hand. Not for the same reason I had when I was a child. After all, I am free now and achieving for now is not a punishment but a reward. In fact, achieving for me now is at a prime necessity. And yet I still stay my hand.
Why? What is more important to me than self-actualization (for this is the only achievement I am after)?
If you know me, you would know the answer.