Ever the cheapo, while traveling up North to see Beth, I packed a lunch and we stopped at a rest stop to eat. John went to get us a drink. Imagine my surprise when he came back with 2 regular Pepsis. He knows I only drink diet drinks. In answer to my upturned eyebrow, which matched my nose, he replied, "I pushed the Diet button but got the regular drink…twice". I really wasn't happy! I really wanted that diet drink. Luckily, I had packed some water and I drank that with my lunch.
This episode came to mind recently, when I reflected on my children. While, I'd not want to change any of them, or push another button for another set with different qualities, none of them are exactly what I that I thought they would be before they were born. I used to think: do this and that and your kids will become this and that. But, I don't believe that anymore.
I'm pretty sure that I wasn't the only mom ever to think as I did. I am around lots of much younger moms weekly as I take care of their precious little ones while they attend MOPS. I overhear them being mortified because their perfect little Suzy got hungry and took a bite out of another toddler's nose. Or, one mom's lovely Jack simply forgot and mistook his fingernails for Eagle talons and the face of a beautiful little girl friend as prey, which left perfect scratch marks on one of his (former) friend's faces. These poor mamas immediately start to apologize and just about every time they say, "I can't imagine where he or she learned to do that!" I can sense their embarrassment as they believe that I and the other moms might think they are inferior moms because their little ones don't act the way they want them to. I can immediately reassure them of a couple of things. One, that their little one's behavior has very little with their parenting, and two, just wait… your kid will continue to do things that will disdain you. But, on the other hand, your child is equally as likely to do things that will amaze and make you so proud. Wonderful things that also cannot be traced to your parenting. Most of the time the good outweighs the bad! My kids have often done things that I would have never imagined them doing, but they are very successful and happy with their choices. I'm happy too, and can take none of the credit for trying to persuade their choices. They made them completely on their own.
The other day at my kids' homeschool gymnastics class, I was doing one of my favorite things…eavesdropping! I heard this mom explaining to her friend, with the utmost pride, how her sister in law looks down on homeschooling. This woman, who thought she was having a private conversation, will, according to her, be able to have the last laugh on her sister in law when her homeschooled kids turn out to be saviours of the planet, while her sister in law's kids will be akin to satan! I wanted to so yell, "Whoa! Sister! You are so setting yourself up for a fall. Maybe your kids will be turn out to be perfect in all ways, but it's equally possible, they will stumble and fall just like most kids do!" I would just about bet this poor woman is in for an unpleasant shock, as well as her sister in law also.
I recognize the feeling in these moms, because I've been there in some ways. It's only as my kids have gotten older that I realize actually have very little control on the things they choose to do and believe. I've had times where my kids have blown me away with their acceptance of someone different. Times where they have made me so proud with their commitment to working towards a goal. Times where they have helped someone less fortunate. I've seen them be impressively well mannered and poised. In those times, I've felt like, "Yep, those are my offspring." But, before I put my mother of the year crown on, I can equally point to times where their behavior and choices have completely blown me away with questions of, how can they do that or why would they ever in a million years want to?
So when I look at my own life, my advice is to those younger moms is to not take over much credit for their accomplishments, as well as don't take over much credit for their downfalls. Neither are entirely within your control. Our little ones, (and big ones) are given free will. They can choose for themselves the things they will or will not believe. They can choose whether they will go with the crowd or march to their own drummer. They can choose whether they will accept the beliefs you have, or reject them for something completely different.
I love this quote from CS Lewis:
“God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can't. If a thing is free to be good it's also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata -of creatures that worked like machines- would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they've got to be free.
So it sounds like we have no control over our offspring, but, we do have a great control…prayer. Through prayer we can give them to the one who made them and gave them and us free will. He knows the path they will take, good or bad. Unlike us, it doesn't take him by surprise. Unlike us, He loves perfectly. That is the only control we really have over our kids. At first this doesn't seem fair, but, because God not only loves our kids, he loves us too, it is a wonderful thing. Through prayer, we also can invite God to use our children to challenge and grow us. We may find that dealing with the things in our kids that disappoint us are the very things that make us a better person. I have certainly found that true. When one of my kids has made a choice I disagree with, the result is my learning how to love more like God, that is loving my children even when they aren't, in my opinion, very lovable. God knows the benefits to us and them, when he gives our kids to us. We, like them, are a work in progress by our heavenly parent, who doesn't make mistakes. So back to my Diet Pepsi analogy. Maybe it was better for me to drink water?
Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently, He thought it worth the risk. (...) If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will -that is, for making a real world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings- then we may take it it is worth paying.”
Almost every time I press the Diet Pepsi, I will get a Diet Pepsi, but occasionally not. Parenting is like that. The odds are that our kids will turn out as we ordered by the things we pour into them, but that's not a guarantee. And when they don't? We need to give them to God, look for the lesson he's teaching us and them, trust Him and love the heck out of our kids! Sometimes, the things they choose will make them, or us even better people than we could ever have imagined, even if they are a regular Pepsi when we thought we wanted Diet!