Many years ago when I found out I was pregnant with my firstborn I was so excited. From the moment I saw those lines on the stick I began making plans for what my child would be like. I had a hunch it’d be a boy so I began shopping for boy clothes. I was determined that MY son would not be dressed in anything Winnie the Pooh or have characters of any kind on his clothing. He would wear Baby Gap. This was because MY son would be studly. He’d be a walking magazine ad and model handsome. This would reflect well on me and gain the approval of others. Because somehow my worth, value and ability as a mom depended on how cute my kids were. (This is incredibly embarrassing to confess, but I think many women might be able to relate).
Fast forward 7 months later and my boy was born. When they handed him to me I was a little shocked. His nose was squished sideways and his ears were bumpy like broccoli and his face was a swollen mess. While I was in love with my baby boy, I began to feel sad that he might not be as model perfect as I thought he’d be (I’m being completely honest, so bear with me). Granted, I was a new mom and had no idea that babies generally don’t look cute fresh from the womb. It takes awhile (and a bath) to let their form settle into place. The nurses reassured me that he’d settle in within a few hours. They were right and I breathed easier. And he became a handsome young fellow.
Once I got over that first “trial” of motherhood (which was ridiculous, right?) I began planning his career as a doctor or a pilot. Actually he’d become both because he was awesome. He would also be valedictorian of his high school and college classes. Why not? He was perfect!
But guess what? Those books we read during pregnancy about childbirth only prepare us for one thing: the birth. They leave us high and dry after that. They don’t say anything about the fact that our babies will be born with personalities and wills of their own and that 100% of the time our kids won’t want to do what we want for them. I found that out pretty fast.
My perfectly handsome baby boy quickly became a preschooler that was a MASTER at not just testing my patience (normal), but testing my belief that God was good. Because if God was good, why would He allow me (who never really did anything “wrong” (this had been my opinion of myself)) to have a child who would have tantrums that lasted upwards of 3 hours and ended with neighbors staring over the fence to make sure things were okay? (I am grateful we have watchful neighbors. I’d be concerned if they didn’t care, actually). The kind of tantrums where I had to hold the bedroom door shut for the family’s own safety? Or that my future valedictorian struggled with basic addition and subtraction through 3rd grade? Who walked around the periphery of the playground at recess all alone every day for years? (FYI, I my understanding of God’s goodness was highly flawed. His goodness and our expectations don’t always match up). My dreams for him were being shattered every day and he wasn’t fitting into the “box” I had created for him.
We had 4 other kids that have their own wills and ideas for life too… ideas that don’t include becoming prima ballerinas or professional athletes or even anything in the medical field (gasp!). Though one has her sights set pretty high and is determined to become a princess.
My kids fight with each other like their lives depend on it. They have turned the whine into a form of torture the military would have to spend billions to match. They DO NOT like wearing clothes I pick for them, no matter if they’re name brand or from Goodwill. They do their own thing. BECAUSE THEY ARE CHILDREN, not paper dolls.
But you know what? Our job as moms isn’t to train up our kids to be superficial. Our job as parents isn’t to make sure our children land the cover of the Hanna Anderssen catalog by the time they’re 5. Our job is to train them up the way they should go so that when they are old they will not depart from it. Our job is to help form the character of our children. We are to LOVE THEM UNCONDITIONALLY. To love them COMPLETELY for who they are. To embrace every part of who they are and help mold their character, not their shell.
I missed the mark with my firstborn. My expectations were SO ridiculous. I feel terrible that I placed such pressure, even if it wasn’t always voiced, on him. As a firstborn myself I should’ve been aware of what doing so would make a few things potentially happen: 1) obsession with perfection, thus setting him up for a lot of failure (me), 2) being a high-strung crazy person (me again), 3) absolute rebellion against our authority as parents and authority in general or 4) becoming a people-pleaser who says “yes” way too much so as never to upset anyone (again, me).
But here’s the thing: for every thing I’ve done wrong as a mom, my God can take and use it to make my kids who He created them to be. I have screwed up. Every parent has. But God is good. He is love. He is the best parent whose plans for His children actually DO happen even if we do our darndest to make things go our way. He’s patient. He knows we’re human and gives as an abundance of grace because of it.
Do you even realize how much peace this brings me, a mom who has guilt-tripped herself into thinking she’s screwed up her kids for all eternity? Who has thought it’d be better to save for counseling than for college for her kids? (Thank you Jennie Allen for that great idea!).
Ladies, we are not perfect. Our kids are not perfect. LIFE is not perfect. But God is. And He loves our babies more than we ever could. Instead of fretting over how many activities our kids are involved in so they can be among the best candidates for full-ride scholarships to Harvard and subconsciously teaching them that their worth is wrapped up in their accomplishments, let’s instead focus on showing our children how valuable they are to us because they exist. How valuable they are to God because He chose to create them and create a life plan for them.
Should we abandon expectation altogether? No. We need to expect our children to try their hardest, obey their parents, love their neighbor and such, but those are all wrapped up in training. And a lot of prayer. LOTS OF IT.
FYI, my firstborn? The one whom we struggled with for so long? The kid is amazing. He is SO smart. He is the most compassionate, tenderhearted, creative, funny, deep-thinking 12-year-old I’ve ever known. Do we still fight? Yup. Is he going to be a neuroscientist? I don’t know. But whatever he chooses for his career, I’ll love him regardless and be proud of him. We have learned that God’s plan for our boy is better than what we could’ve imagined. When I was planning his future I had neglected to think about his character; about the man, husband and father he would hopefully become. I’m so glad God was taking care of that. I thank God profusely for not giving me my way and for doing things His way and in His time in and through my beloved son.
Mamas, I’m praying for you. Your job is so hard. When you want to pull your hair out or throw the toy box into the dumpster because you can’t stand picking up one more stinkin’ Zooble, reach up to God instead. Whisper (or scream) a prayer to Him and ask for His help. Entrust your precious babies, whom you love more than life, to Him and breathe a little easier. He’s got your back and He’s got the backs of your children and He loves you both more than you could ever imagine.