Happy Mother’s Day to my mom, your mom, and maybe even you! In honor of both Mother’s Day & Father’s Day, I’ve enlisted the help of some of the best parents I have the privilege of knowing to bring you some solid ideas for successful parenting in a series I’m calling “The Best I Have To Give.” Today’s post is from me, but between today and Father’s Day, I’ll be posting some guest pieces that I’m sure will inspire you to parent with new found energy, and tremendous success! Either that, or you’ll want to throw all we have to say out the window. And that’s alright too, because we are all on our own journey, and yet, we’re in it together…
I have lots of advice for raising kids. Thankfully, I have this little corner of the internet to share my opinions, where people are welcome to read if they wish. But in the real world, there is only one piece of advice I share with new moms and dads. I gave it to my brother and sister-in-law when they were pregnant for this squidgy little bundle of love. (Couldn’t you just eat him up?)
I was reminded all over again of its importance when I visited with my step-brother and his wife last evening, who are expecting their first baby in July.
And I’m sharing it with you, because I believe that many of your disappointments and difficulties with parenting will dissolve if this message is permitted to sink deep into your heart – if it saturates your days and your decision making.
It’s a tough one though. It wasn’t until my daughter was about 8 years old that the message I’m about to share with you was etched deeply on my heart. Some of Laine’s learning style issues were arising, and she was losing interest in things she was involved in. I was struggling to understand who she was – easily angered, easily frustrated… I felt like I couldn’t get her to participate in anything. She wouldn’t try out for a team. She wouldn’t play spring soccer (EVERY kid plays spring soccer!). She didn’t want to practice the piano. She didn’t like school. And I felt like a failure, and truthfully, there was a part of me that felt like she was failing too. Failing at life – not shining in any area that I had dreamed she would – not athletic, or studious – just digging in her heals and refusing to be moved – and this devastated me for a time.
While I was still pregnant for Laine, I had a dream about her. She was about 2 years old in my dream, pudgy little cheeks and thighs, and a mess of curly brown hair falling in ringlets around her face. She was sitting on my lap, laughing and babbling away, and my heart felt so full of joy. One evening I was sitting in my family room, lamenting over my daughter, wondering how I could fix her, and I remembered this dream. My heart was full of gladness remembering that happy little bundle of curls sitting on my lap – and I had a profound moment of clarity. It was a dream. That little child who brought me happiness for a few unconscious moments was not my daughter. She didn’t even look like my daughter. In the same way, the vision I had for who Laine should be, and what her life should look like were just a dream. My dream. And I realized that I needed to relinquish the vision I had – the vision I was parenting towards – in exchange for the beautiful reality that was right in front of me.
Friends, this is the best I have to give you.
Parent the child you have been given. Not the child you dreamed of having.
If you are pregnant, or hoping to be, know without any uncertainty that the child of your dreams does not exist! Your baby will not share all your passions. Your child will not fulfill all of the hopes you have for them. Some of the idyllic visions for the future that you imagine won’t ever manifest into reality.
And now, years after this realization, I can wholeheartedly say I am so thankful Laine isn’t all I had dreamed. At the time, giving up my expectations required a lot from me. I felt like I was going to have to forfeit too much. But the beautiful thing is that it required me mustering up faith that she had a destiny! That her life was predestined to be great (not just good) without me injecting my own ideals and fantasies into the mix. The world is full of people and personalities who blow my mind! People who do such incredible things – things I could never even imagine! My kid had the potential to be one of those, and who was I to stand in the way of that? Who was I to insist she do things my way? To insist she share my opinions, or my passions?
Moms and dads – we are here as guides to our children. We are here to direct their paths, not to lay down the bricks of those paths. We are here to walk with them down the paths they choose, not to chain them to our backs and drag them down ours. We are here to instill in them skills and values that will help them be successful in their own struggles. When they enter the real world and leave our nests, they will encounter challenges of their own, but if we were busy shoving their noses in piano lessons and soccer fields against their will, we can be sure they won’t be prepared. We’ve only got a few years to allow them to safely explore their their own passions and interests. We’ve got just a bit of time to witness the beauty of the light in their eyes when they are praised for something they love to do.
It takes bravery as a parent to live this out. It takes standing before your own parents and admitting your child isn’t good at certain things. It might take courage to tell the guys at work your son hates baseball but loves his ballet class. It may be hard for you to see that your child has no interest in following in your footsteps, or doesn’t want to take over the business your family has run for 3 generations.
And in a world that praises a mainstream, cookie cutter lifestyle, where success is measured in paychecks and beauty is defined on magazine covers, it might take some redefining of your own paradigms to see these things manifested in your children. Allow it to wash over you. Allow it to redefine the rhythm of your home. Allow it to move your heart to see who your children really are – deep in their souls.
That’s how you’ll give them roots, and wings.
My dad and I were watching a PBS Documentary about monarch butterflies a few days ago. We were amazed. We all know that caterpillars become butterflies. But did you know that butterflies first shed their skin four times? Four times, their structure changes so much they have to literally grow a new skin. Then, they build their own cocoons. A little place for them to hibernate while they undergo a massive transformation. When they finally emerge from their pods, they need to rest for a few hours and allow their beautiful new wings time to dry and harden before they set out to instinctually find food. And finally, when the time is right, they fly thousands of miles, with no one to guide them.
How do they know where to go? How do they know how to do all they need to?
They are animals, you say. They are instinctual. But I would also argue that no one is asking the caterpillar to become a bird instead of a butterfly. No one is asking it to keep it’s old skin. They are beautifully, artistically and magically transforming, and we stand back and watch in awe! People aren’t so different. When we are allowed to shift and transition and fail and try again, we eventually stumble onto the path that best suits us.
Mark Twain said this:
The two most important days in your life are the day you were born, and the day you find out why.
On that day, so many years ago now, when I realized I needed to parent the child I was given, not the child I have envisioned, I made an important decision. I will be there supporting Laine on the day she finds out why. She’s not going to discover her purpose in spite of me. She’ll discover it with me cheering her on! She’ll discover it with me lighting her path, and having her back. And that’s the best way I know how to parent.
It’s a lesson that I have to remind myself of, when I have a grand idea or set a lofty goal… I need to remember that she’s real, and not a dream, full of her own desires and passions. And I couldn’t be more excited about the plot twists and triumphs of her story. It will be a privilege to have been her mom through it all.
And here’s an exciting turn of events – my daughter, of her own choosing, is learning to play the piano. So some dreams do come true after all!