The new film by Disney, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, is an inspirational but cautionary tale for parents that breathes new life into the old adage, "Be careful what you wish for."
Cindy and Jim Green (played by Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton) are a super-sweet couple living in the small town of Stanleyville, home to a pencil manufacturing plant. But the Green's happy life takes a hit when they find out they are infertile.
After a time of denying and struggling with this tough news, they decide to literally bury it. One night -- after a little too much wine -- they take turns rattling off their wishes for the perfect child. From athletic ability to music skills, they write their wishes on pieces of paper, place them in a box, and bury the wishes in their garden.
After a mysterious rainstorm hits overnight, a 10-year-old boy named Timothy shows up in their bedroom, covered in dirt. He calls Cindy and Jim "Mom" and "Dad" as if he has been there for ten years.
Over the next few days, Cindy and Jim realize Timothy is the child they dreamed up. Then, the harsh parenting lessons start.
Dad wished that his perfect child would "score the winning goal" in soccer. They get their wish. Timothy scores the winning goal... for the other team. They also want their kid to "rock" musically. Well, Timothy doesn't exactly rock, at least not in the classic sense. He eventually "rocks" at a recital, but again, Timothy isn't like the other kids. Mom wanted their child to "love and be loved," but when Timothy starts hanging out with an older, questionably dressed young lady, mom is not so sure she wants her son falling in love just yet.
Time after time we see the Green's learn harsh lessons about expectations. As most parents do, they make mistakes along the way. After having placed their child in a box -- quite literally -- they struggle to understand exactly how Timothy is the fulfillment of their dreams, and they often force the issue.
The film reminds us that while the pull for us parents may be irresistible, we have to refrain from defining our children before we know who they are. Dreaming up the next football star or great novelist may be entertaining, but there are more important things in which we should place our hopes and dreams.
This is especially true for dads. Dads, and men in general, tend to focus on what others do rather than who they are. Rather than focusing on what we want our children to be, we should be focused on how we want them to "be."
Indeed, when tragedies such as the recent shooting in Aurora occur, I can't help but think that at one point, the killer was a baby whose parents had big dreams for him. But what were those dreams? To be the next great nuclear physicist? Or to be someone who loves others unconditionally?
Therein lies the film's lesson for parents, delivered in the charming and magical way that only Disney can deliver. The most important discovery that Cindy and Jim make is that a child will always be better and more interesting than anything you can dream up.
Don't put your child in a box. Don't dream up skills and things that are seen and can therefore be contained. Instead, dream and model the unseen, like character, values and respect. That way, we can focus on cherishing our children, no matter what.