When I was seven and fantasizing about my future family, I knew I was going to have six kids- three boys and three girls- Ashley, Amber, Hannah, Billy, Brock and Ben. My husband, Troy, was tall, blond and athletic and we were going to raise our kids to be just like us! The girls would wear pretty white eyelet dresses, bobby sox and white shoes and the boys would wear khaki pants, button down shirts with short blonde hair. They would all act politely and were very quiet, unless they were making us laugh or beam with pride because they were so smart. I had a pretty narrow view of my imaginary family, but I was seven after all. Oh and I was never going to work and my husband would be in our family business. My sisters and I would all live on the same block and borrow sugar from each other and babysit each other’s kids. Plans made at seven are usually not the ones to follow I have found out as an adult. Who we think we are and whom we think our children will be must be a flexible and forgiving experience.
These days, my real, beautiful flesh and blood children wear clothes that they choose and do things that are motivated by their interests and wishes. Sometimes, I am surprised, sometimes, I’ll admit I’m disappointed, and everyday I am amazed. It’s often difficult to remember that they are separate from me and won’t always do the things that I expect them to do. My kids can be polite but of course not enough when I really want them to be! Learning to love the kid you have not the one you wish for or believed you should have been given was a painful lesson for my son and our family. Asher would end up needing an extra year of Pre-K before entering elementary school. He was bright enough but not emotionally ready for the rigors of “real school”. He is a full year older than his classmates but fits in perfectly now well imperfectly in the right ways. Still at times we need to explain to him why he is older than his peers but we know as parents it was the right decision for our son.
It’s the end of the school year, and report cards are coming up. It’s easy to expect the kids to do well in the areas that Michael or I excelled, and maybe to struggle in the areas that we struggled. But I have to pause, take a moment, and check back in with the individuals that are my kids. They have their own strengths and weaknesses, their own abilities to achieve and their own hurdles to overcome. So too, their report cards are their own and should only be measured against them.
I hear the lament all the time, “my son should be in an advanced placement class, he’s too smart for the class he’s in…”, and if that’s true than a parent should certainly advocate for their child’s best interest. But, imagine for a moment that you are advocating for a child that in reality doesn’t belong in an advanced program. Imagine your sweet baby, sitting in a class that is moving too quickly, unable to keep up and feeling frustrated. The result will be lowered self- esteem, acting out, potentially developing a divisive relationship with education all together. Or maybe you want your child to excel in science, but they really are incredible artists. By focusing on the areas that you prioritize, instead of seeing the potential that exists in other domains, you are missing out on really knowing your child. The fact is we have to be willing to see our children, to treasure the children we have and embrace the children that were placed in our care, not the children we imagined when we were seven or eighteen, or even while we were changing their diapers.
There is a story in Jewish liturgy that goes something like this. On his deathbed Rabbi Zusya was visited by his students who saw him crying and asked why. In reply he said, “When I enter the next world, no one will ask why I was not more like Moses, or Rabbi Akiba. It is not expected of me to be these other men. The question will be, why was I not more Zusya?”
As parents we are given the opportunity to see who our children really are, and through our seeing them allow them to see their own best selves. That is not accomplished by measuring our children against the fantasy in our head. When they are grown up and creating families and lives of their own, it won’t matter what grade Asher or Tova received in Math, reading or science. What will matter is the people they became and the opportunities they had to develop their own capacity for greatness. Not mine, not Michael’s and not Ashley, Amber, Hannah, Billy, Brock or Ben’s. So when God will ask them I pray that they will be able to answer they are fully and amazingly themselves.
What would you answer if God asked you?