Lim: Gilded cage

Melanie Lim

KEEPING your children home (forever) will give you peace of mind. But in the long-run, it will do them more harm than good to be kept in a gilded cage—a life of comfort, if not luxury but a life where safety is purchased at the price of autonomy.

I was lucky to have been raised in the wild—not in a gilded cage.

My parents weren’t exactly hippies but they were quite liberal compared to their peers. They did not adhere to the autocratic style of parenting that was the norm of the time when children were seen but not heard.

We all had a voice in our household. If you speak up, you will be heard. If you stay silent, that is your choice. As you might have guessed, I did not choose silence. I had a voice—a booming one, at all times. Perhaps, it comes from being a middle child.

Parents fuss over the oldest and the youngest. The middle children? Well, you learn to fend if not fight for yourself. Home was my first battleground.

I didn’t realize how much fighting I did and still do till one day, about a decade ago, one of my siblings told me that she never had to fight for anything in her life because I always did all the fighting for all of us.

Growing up, she said, I always fought so hard to get what I wanted. When my parents would finally acquiesce, all the other siblings would become automatic beneficiaries of all my efforts. That, I guess, is how I honed my warrior skills.

My mother was a worrier, my father, a control freak. You can imagine what battles I had to fight, growing up. Other kids would just have accepted the status quo. Well, not me. I insisted. I persisted. In the end, they let me go.

I wasn’t a bad kid. But I did not like to be told what to do. And I did not want my freedom curtailed. In short, like the wildlife, I did not want to be raised in captivity. I wanted to be free to roam the wild.

With probably a heavy heart, my parents let me go. Well, I don’t think I turned out so bad.

If you never let your children go, they’ll never survive without you. Wildlife raised in captivity often die when they are reintroduced into the wild. They do not know how to forage for food. They do not know how to recognize danger. They do not know how to defend themselves from predators.

I cannot recall a single moment in my childhood when my parents came to my defense when a teacher harshly reprimanded me or a bully made life hell for me. My parents expected me to fight my own battles. And I did.

If you want your children to survive and thrive without you—understand that you do not hone their fighting skills by keeping them safe but by allowing them to see the face of danger. Know that you teach them survival skills by letting them go not by keeping them in a gilded cage.

Release them into the wild. They will learn to survive. But will you?