I love to see the growth of young people, as they are straight and true, and full of promise. Their whole lives lie ahead of them. And it is they who are entrusted with the future. That’s why I take them very seriously.
I feel that “treasures of the heart” are the greatest possible gift from parents to their children. Some parents may wish to guarantee their children’s happiness by giving them material wealth. Yet, no matter how wealthy they are, without good health and physical strength, children will not be able to lead truly happy lives. And above all, I believe that it is the “treasures of the heart”—inner qualities such as spiritual strength, character and humanity—that will ensure the true happiness of a child.
I see childraising as a process of leading a young adult to develop the strength to stand and walk on his own feet. Every time I meet a child, I always offer my respect to him or her as an independent person. A child is an individual with a distinct personality, and even the bond between parent and child is ultimately a relationship between two individuals.
Some children are very considerate and always deep in thought. Others may be looking for someone to fight with. One child cannot resist scribbling on everything in sight. Another is always running to the kitchen for something to eat. There are a thousand different character types and each has different interests. Parents can try to anticipate the different directions in which a child’s individuality might lead them and then do everything possible to provide the environment best suited for their development.
Children are very sensitive; I always feel it is unkind to make comparisons among them. Buddhism teaches that just as cherry blossoms are cherry blossoms, and plum blossoms are plum blossoms, each person has a totally unique character. Children need to each grow at their own rate and in a way that is true to themselves.
Nothing encourages the growth of children more than knowing they are understood and trusted by their parents, as a story about the great French writer and poet Victor Hugo illustrates. The man who lived next door to the young Hugo’s family had a huge apple tree, and he decided to build a fence around it so that children couldn’t pick the apples. Hugo’s mother told him, “If you’re building that fence to keep my son away, you needn’t bother.” The man continued to watch, but the boy never came near the tree. I am impressed that Hugo’s mother knew her son’s character so well.
In order for a child to develop an independent self, it may be necessary at times to discipline him, while at other times the child needs to follow his own way.
I don’t think children are weak and fragile from the beginning. I believe that even a newborn baby possesses vast untapped potential. I’ve heard that a baby, even without any swimming lessons, can instinctively swim when put in water. Perhaps it is parents’ overprotectiveness that actually suppresses the potential of a child, making him or her feeble to the point where the child loses the once-possessed skill and strength needed to swim in the vast ocean called “life.”
Fearing their child may become wet from a small wave, some parents would make sure that she will not even go near the water, and others may try to shield and protect her by getting wet themselves. Imagine how shocked and helpless such a child may become when suddenly thrown into the vast ocean. What will happen to her after she grows up and is swept away by the crushing waves of life and finds that no one is there to intervene on her behalf?
Parenting, to me, means helping a child to develop his or her own strength to strive, to challenge and to live. “If you love your child, help him stand on his own feet and send him off on a journey of learning,” was a concept popular in old Japan. This is how parents back then educated their children. If the ability to face life’s difficulties is made the focus of their upbringing, there is no need to worry whether or not one’s children will handle their lives well.
Sadly, however, some parents try to use their children as a means to give expression to their own vanity and pride, trying to force them into some preconceived mold they consider desirable. This is not a pretty sight, and they run a grave risk of destroying the individuality of their child entirely. If a parent thinks not of the child’s dreams but of his or her own, the result will be something as artificial as the dwarfed trees in a bonsai arrangement.
I feel it is crucial that parents understand the way children’s minds work. When he asks the all-important question, “Why?” and is scolded, or a nonsensical answer is made up to quiet him, a child’s purity of spirit will be sullied.
One of the most crucial aspects of childraising is how to answer this frequent question. In the beginning children expect their parents to teach them about everything. However, rather than responding immediately, maybe the mother or father can take the time to work out together with the child what the answer might be. This can help cultivate the child’s power of reasoning.
If parents can raise their children in a way that discourages self-absorption and fosters open-mindedness, such openness of spirit will naturally develop into a warmheartedness directed toward others, toward nature and toward the universe. And with such young people in it, I am confident that the world will become a better place.