Product and Process - Completing a Task

If there's one thing I can't stand, it's a child who starts a project then abandons it. Or one who is eager with the ideas, then gives up when the going gets hard or tedious. I get incensed. Maybe it's the old Protestant work ethic. Or just my pleasure in a job completed and well done. Or my belief that if you're going to be happy, you have to learn to take the bumpy parts along with the smooth. Whatever it is, I feel strongly about it. And naturally, I have a child with a different point of view.

When I look at him, I see a person who loves to make plans, is eager to implement, and, as soon as it gets the least bit hard, is ready to give up. Now, of course, he might see the situation quite differently. But, at this point, I don't even care what he chooses, so long as there is some place in his life where he can decide to struggle through the hard parts to get to what he wants.

His most recent project is a tree-house. His vision has now grown from a platform in our one (very ill-suited) tree to a structure that extends across the entire back yard, with an aerial drawbridge, and replacement of the back steps with a kitchen window entrance. He was fired up and ready to go. Knowing his track record, I was skeptical, to say the least. And I certainly wasn't excited about the back steps part. But I couldn't see boycotting the plan entirely, so I joined him in starting the platform.

I had to admit that his ingenious planning had made the most of what our problematic tree had to offer. But he got tired of sawing long before the first cut was completed, complained of the strain of holding the board in place while trying to level it, and made the most of all the difficulties of hammering. The whole process was torture for me--encouraging him to try to his limit when he wanted to give up, adding in my skills while not blurring the fact that he had chosen a hard job.

The most helpful perspective I've gotten on anything relating to this issue was from another mother writing about her son's passion for inventing games. He would spend hours working out the idea for a board game, then more hours designing the board and all the pieces, and more hours perfecting the rules. And he would never play the game. (Just the thought of that glaring lack of completion, that waste, brings up all my outrage.) What she saw, however, was different. It seemed to her, from the evidence of all these incomplete games, that his interest lay in the design--and that that was a perfectly legitimate interest in itself. If the games never got played, well then that just told them something useful about where his real passions lay.

It makes me wonder about the tree-house. Perhaps what I should be doing is paying closer attention to his plans (which I admit that I tend to block out, since I know, to my immense frustration, that he's never going to get around to completing it). But if I think of the plans as a product in themselves, I can appreciate their creativity and flair. I can admire their subtlety, complexity and attention to detail.

I still think that people need to understand the value of struggling toward a goal. And I still don't know how to help my son with that. But beating him over the head with my values is probably not the best way. Showing all my disappointment in his shortcomings probably won't help either. And appreciating the places where his thinking and problem-solving and single-minded attention are clearly at work, rather than focusing exclusively on the end product, can't possible hurt.