“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” - Maya Angelou
I am currently a parent to one child. She just only turned three this summer, so I still consider myself acutely new to this whole parenting gig. And not just new, but often acutely clueless as well.
I say this because, up to about eight months ago with my daughter, I felt like we were simply in survival mode. My main concerns were making sure she was fed, safe, sleeping, healthy, and growing all the while providing constant man-to-man coverage to prevent injuries. But today, the game has shifted a bit as she is a little more self-sufficient and her personality and character have blossomed overnight. She’s discovering who she is. Now, my challenge has transitioned into intentionally helping her in her discovery while being parents who foster a home where, as the timeless Maya Angelou quoted, she can be as she is and never be questioned.
Just a minor responsibility, right? Guiding the formation of a unique human being. Is there anything more exhilarating and daunting? There are days when I’m just trying to stay afloat and I have to give myself a pep talk in the mirror fiercely repeating “you can do this!” with wild gestures to the tune of “Highway to the Danger Zone” from Top Gun. There is no one correct method to parenting. There is no DIY- instructional video on YouTube. We literally have to figure it out as we go. And in the end, when we send them off to the world, all we can do is hope we made them feel loved, safe, and gave them the encouragement and the tools to be their best selves.
My daughter just started preschool and the other day I peeked into her classroom to get a gander of what preschool is all about. First of all, it’s magnificent. Snack time, story time, play time, and singing time. Can I go back to preschool? I could really get into clapping my hands and eating snacks all day. Second, as I watched all the children gather around the teacher; I noticed my child was way more interested in savoring her snack than listening to the lesson. Then, when she was called over, she was gazing off around the room not participating and began taking off her boots and socks. Meanwhile, other children are raising their hands, asking questions, and being overall perfect children.
As I walked away that day, at first I laughed at how my daughter behaved. But then something unexpected happened, I felt eerily unsettled. Why wasn’t she participating as much as the other children? The next week, we were at her swimming lessons and I noticed the same type of behavior from my daughter; splashing on her own, looking up at me and waving at me, and not necessarily listening to the teacher. Is she not learning quick enough? Why is she not listening as well as the other children?
Later, I was thinking about why those unsettling feelings were rising up in me and I came to a couple of conclusions. Conclusion A: She just barely turned three years old; I need to get a grip and quit being crazy mom lady. Conclusion B: All the unsettling feelings were rising up simply not because my daughter is doing anything out of the norm for her age, but because I was comparing my daughter to other children. I wanted her to be behaving just like everyone else. Gross. Even writing that sentence makes me want to go kick my own behind.
I’ve talked to you other more seasoned parents about this very topic (as I’ve said, I’m an amateur here) and many of you have said it is a constant battle to affirm who your children are in a world where comparison rules. Whew. I’m not alone. I never want to make my daughter feel like just being her isn’t enough. I never want to project what other people think is “normal” on to her or make her feel she needs to be something she is not. I just want her to have the courage to be unique and completely and utterly her. (Within appropriate and respectful behavior boundaries of course.)
This new job of parenting is so much more than just surviving. So much more than just laundry, potty training (also known as the Dark Days and the Day the Carpet Cried), feeding, sleepless nights, worrying, and anything else you can think of when you think of parenting. The core of what we do is truly about equipping a unique human being to engage in the world in a way that only they specifically can. As a dear friend of mine often quips (a quote originally from St. Catherine of Siena) we are essentially teaching our children that when you are “who God meant you to be, you will set the world on fire.”