I read something yesterday that for some reason, just stuck with me. It kept clanging around in my head, begging to be thought about. It was just a picture, I don’t remember what the image was, but had the words over it that simply said, “Love the child you have.”
That little thought just wouldn’t leave me alone. Love the child you have. Well, of course I do. I started asking myself though, how many times we get caught up in expectations of what we think our child should be like. How many times do parents try to love not their child, but their idea of who that child should be? It happens. I’m beginning to think it happens more often than I’d like to think about.
I’m a pretty laid back mom. Okay, I’m an extremely laid back mom. Our household is far from traditional. I have a good kid. I don’t have to bark at her all the time. She doesn’t give me trouble. I also knew, from an early age, that I did not want to be like my own mother. Now don’t get me wrong, I love my mother very much, but she wasn’t the warm fuzzy type. I couldn’t openly talk to her. I didn’t go to her with my problems, at least not really. I wasn’t comfortable sharing with her. Life had made her a rather hard woman. I was pretty much a cream puff. I guess I felt that she wouldn’t have understood most of my feelings, especially the more emotionally charged ones. I didn’t want that for A-. I wanted her to know she could talk to me. (and believe me, based on some of the doozies of questions she has felt free to come and ask me, she has NOOO trouble at all talking to me about ANYTHING.) Judging from what A- says about her peers, we talk far more than other kids and their parents. Other than that, as long as she is a good person, kind and respectful of others, listens to her moral compass (okay, I know there will be blips on the moral compass, but so far so good) tries hard in school and lives by the rules, I’m all good. No need to sweat the small stuff.
Maybe it’s because we have a creative household. I don’t know. But it works for us, and A- is kind and decent and loving and well spoken. But I digress (again). Love the child you have. A- knows so many kids who think their parents don’t love them. I know some of that is teen angst. But I can’t imagine A- ever thinking I don’t love her. She may know I can be frustrated with her sometimes but not love her? I can’t imagine a more horrible thought than knowing my child thought I didn’t love her. And since she is kind of the “mom” of any group she is in, or else she has the title of therapist, other kids talk to her about their problems. Kids today are faced with some pretty terrible stuff. But back to the thought of loving the child you have. She has one friend who confided in her that he is gay. He can’t tell his parents because he says they are very prejudiced against gays and he fears they will throw him out. He’s fourteen. He tries to pretend to be something he isn’t but he says his mother treats him horribly. He believes it is because he is feminine, even though he tries to hide it, and that she sees it and hates him for it. He talks all the time about how he wishes he could be honest with his parents in this confusing time, and how much he just wished they would accept him for who he is and how much he wishes they loved the person he is. I don’t know the entire situation, and I’m not judging the boy or his parents, I only think how sad it is that he is going through such a difficult time and and can’t go to the people who should love him the most. He honestly does not believe his mother loves him. He believes she doesn’t love him because he is not the son she wants. I hope he is wrong.
I look at A- and I think about what she has gone through in her own life and that statement speaks to me. Love the child you have. There have been so many times in A’s life when she felt she was not loved for who she was. She wanted desperately to be accepted for her own personality and not be made to try to conform to other people’s ideas of what she should be. I give her credit for being stronger than I ever was. She bent until she broke, but deep down, she refused to give up her identity to please others. She remained herself. She has come back stronger than ever, and more passionate about her likes, dislikes and beliefs. I wouldn’t have her any other way.
I see parents of tomboys try to dress their daughters in pink, lace and bows. They give them dolls instead of dump trucks. Why? Because they dreamed all their lives about what it would be like to have a little girl, and the one they were given isn’t quite what they expected. Instead of changing their expectations, they try to change the child. What good does that do? Embrace the child you were given. Love them unconditionally. Help them learn to use their strengths, not to try to lose themselves for the sake of others.
Maybe I overthink things. Okay, I know I overthink things. Our children are precious. Why would we ever want to change them? Why would we want to turn them into what we imagine they should be instead of nurturing who they are? I’m not talking about letting them run wild, or give in to horrible behaviors. Of course they need discipline and guidance, but why can’t we meet our child where the child is?
I see parents of children with mental health issues fight every step of the way for their child. I see them learn all they can to better take care of their child and give them the best odds at success. I see other parents who refuse to learn. They refuse to change. That only hurts the child. I have, unfortunately, seen parents of children with disabilities that seem to blame the child. I know that doesn’t happen often, and I know so many more parents who are the absolute best parents in the world – but we all know this happens. A child is born with some abnormality, whether mental or physical, that makes them less desirable to their parent. I know a woman whose husband left when their child was born Down’s Syndrome because he couldn’t stand to look at their beautiful baby. That is a special kind of cowardice. Love the child you have. Not some image of what you thought you should have. This man’s life would have been blessed ten fold if he had loved the child he had. He missed out on knowing a beautiful soul.
Love the child you have. How many times are we guilty of not doing that? Or at least of not liking the child we have? How many times are we disappointed when our child doesn’t like something we hoped they would? How many times do we wish they did not have some little personality quirk that gets on our nerves? How often do we think that we wish they were more like this or that? How many parents go even farther and can’t accept a child who is different, or handicapped?
How many times do young adults go into a business or career that they hate because it is the one their parents want for them? How many young adults marry someone because it is who their parents approve of? How many children can’t confide in their parents because they would be shunned, or at the very least, misunderstood?
Love the child you have, not the child you wish they were. You miss out on a whole lot by not getting to know your child. You just might miss out on knowing the most interesting, funny, quirky, intelligent person you would have had the pleasure of having in your life. Don’t try to make them be what you want of them. Don’t try to live through them, or force your expectations on them. Expect that they be only themselves. Expect that they work hard to become the best they can be. Expect that they accept themselves. Expect that they become responsible people, that they become contributing members of society. Expect that there is greatness within each and every one of them, if only they have someone who has faith in them.