When The Chad and I married I knew I wanted to have his children. Hell bent on exactly two children, one boy, one girl. My plan was flawless, as was my ideal for parenting these prophetical children. I made egregious assumptions on how I planned to parent my children, based on how I was parented as a child. Wanting more for my children, wanting more than what I received, wanting them to experience more than what I had the opportunity to experience. My ideals were laced with sprinkles of pride and entitlement, did you catch any of that? What I did not realize in my assumptions was how much I would eat my words and plans. What I did not realize is how much we have to practice parenting like physicians practice medicine.
Parenting is not something we have completed flawlessly when our children are born.
Speaking with my mother the other day I was given a most beautiful revelation into parenting. In one of our many heartfelt discussions about parenting and my childhood, I shared my vulnerable feeling of how I felt adopted. She [Mom] asked me why. I explained how I felt so out of place in our family since I was so different from my siblings. I was an enormous ball of emotion (still am), I feel everything I experience, my thoughts are my emotions and vice verse. I process and see the world differently, holistically, with all the moving parts and pieces foreseeing the downstream affects of each action with people and anticipating their feelings. Knowing my present self and my child self, I asked her why I was treated so differently. My mom explained how she was so unsure on how to deal with me, my emotions, my ability to communicate thoughts, feelings, and experiences. All of this was unexpected for her and appreciably overwhelming.
Sobbing began on my end of the phone, my inner child grieved with my parental self, grieved with my mother. How awful for my mom to be placed into a situation where she felt so helpless and inadequate to speak to her child. I felt how she must have felt, that my abounding will, overwhelming emotions and stark ability to communicate, outweighed her ability to feel adequate as a parent. She went on to explain how my intelligence, even as a small child, afforded me the amazing opportunity to figure out every situation on my own, so she sometimes left me to my own devices in that regard.
My mom made me so proud in such a somber moment. She had the ability to admit imperfections as a parent, she could tell me that we are not all perfect, we okay to not be perfect. We do not have the answers when we are faced with unknown situations and moments with our children where we just feel helpless and out of sorts, but we make do and love our children through the seasons. So when mom shared this naked parenting moment I could not help to clothe it in love and know exactly how she felt when you do not know what to do for your kids.
I know those moments. I know those imperfections. I know that child. I see her everyday in the faces of my children, in their hearts, in their emotions, their trains of thought. I meet my kids in those moments.
Parenting is trial and error. A learning curve. We are like physicians who are practicing an art in an evolutionary society that is moving much faster than we anticipated. Media, technology, communication, the temptations, the drivers and motivators, everything has far exceeded simpler times, the age of innocence is no more. Our children are thinking today in ways we never thought 20 or 30 years ago. They are exposed to a world where virtue is on the verge of extinction and quite frankly this scares the hell out of me. I’m barely chartering the boat as an adult, let alone comprehending how a child stays afloat in the drowning sea of advancement.
Just a few months ago The Chad found our oldest son conducting a truly innocent search on the internet which opened a Pandora’s box of images, experience and explanations we did not anticipate so early on in his life. At dinner the other evening my sweet baby girl asked how babies are delivered if you do not have to cut open the mommy; like when she was born. Explaining inappropriate touching and how people hurt children by touching their genitals was another conversation in our pool another afternoon. Adult topics and conversations in which we were unprepared and inexperienced to find the words, but met our kids in those moments to educate them.
So we practice gentleness, tact and timing of these very adult topics to be catered to our seven year old’s and 12 year old, respectively. Educating them and informing them in a fashion that does not deter them from experiencing life, prevent them from creating an established opinion (positive or negative) that would discriminate or be hurtful to themselves or others. We practiced preparing them for this evolving world, realistically.
We want to validate their emotions and thoughts which is often the most difficult of all our practices as parents. Dealing with our own baggage that we travel with into adulthood can be an albatross legacy for our children. Such as with my mother and myself. In her home, feelings were never discussed, felt, experienced, and or validated. The legacy she carried was much of the same. At no fault of her own, she only learned what her mother taught her and my grandmother’s mother taught her. My desire was to end the legacy of oppression so that myself and my children could continue to grow and leave a better legacy for their future.
As parents we are often unaware of our traveling suitcase of faults. Often others are quick to point out what we are doing wrong without the gift of grace to help us unpack our baggage. People are messy, that is not always a fault. Others are also quick to judge how we should be doing it as if they have the answers; the lovely armchair parents or second opinion parenting, our Monday morning quarterbacks. What we as parents and people forget, or fail to realize, is that raising children is not a one size fits all t-shirt. Each child is different, each life is different, each experience is unique.
For example, my three kids, I say I treat them all equally. I don’t. Bear with me while I unravel the story. Each of my children has their own gifts, their own personality, this can at time pose difficult when you have twins since everything in the early stages of their life was done in tandem. I do, however, treat all of my children equally based on their individual needs as people.
G, my oldest, is like myself, a walking ball of emotion who’s mind could be met with that of Neil Degrasse Tyson with the way he thinks about the world. He stuffs down his emotions because he is a young man coming into his teens and because of his size. He is a tall, muscularly stout boy with the strength of an ox. My gentle giant. I constantly pray with him and affirm the safety of talking with his father and I about feelings, events, moments, so that he can be free with his emotions and thoughts because he has yet to find his words to elaborate some of what he has seen or experienced. I give him what he needs based on how he needs me as a mother, parent and adult. I cannot treat him as I do his siblings because he is a different child, so I practice strength, support and grace for a young man entering a season of great uncertainty as a tween and teen. Reminding him of his awesomeness and reinforcing that in life we are okay to be different.
Seth, my youngest son, is a river of words, thoughts, emotions, feelings, activity; he is a whir of flowing worry and joy. I constantly pray with him and affirm that he does not need to carry such a heavy burden as a young man, that he too can lighten his load because he has his words. I have to catch myself to ask him to stop talking, I do not want him to stop talking. The day he stops talking is the day I die because that is the day I experience him die inside as a person. His uncanny ability to communicate to myself, The Chad and others is so raw, so beautiful, world leaders could only learn from my verbose little boy. I practice with him the ability to be humble and admit I do not know or have the answers to all the questions he has of this world, but that we will find them out together. I give him the gift of listening because he needs an audience and needs affirmation of his words.
Finally, my baby girl, whom I deny is exactly like me. She is a most beautiful writer, illustrator and artist where her words, her feelings, become art. Her “mess” litters my house, miniature books about the experiences she has had in her tiny life, colorful drawings, paintings, scribbles and tape are found in every corner. I practice patience to try to keep as much of her art and her feelings, I never want her to lose the ability to create works from words, feelings, experiences and thoughts. Her strength, tenacity and independence are a great spirit I never wish to break, so I practice teaching her how to use these gifts so that she is not trying to figure it out in her late 30s and into her 40s. I give her the gift of praise that even when we do it wrong, we tried and we can learn from the unbridled passion and spirit for life and expression.
Writing this I realize I am all three of my children as I practice myself to be a productive adult, loving child, and decent parent. Stuffing down my own feelings of insecurity and worry if I am doing this parenting thing right. Using my words as they flow from my mind, my mouth and they become art. I practice parenting so that my children will become better people in spite of me, not in spite of my upbringing. Just as a physician is skilled in his expertise, he continues to practice to get better. I practice parenting as a mom that wants my children to have more and experience more not because of my selfish desires or pride, but because they deserve more and want more for themselves. The practice of parenting is so that we can become better people for our children, ourselves and they too can become better people.