It is a huge leap - to get to the point at which you realize - and not just intellectually - that your child is not you. At all. If you find yourself resisting this, I’ve always found it helpful to consider the question, “Am I my parents? Do I want them valuing me to the extent that I reflect their identities?” Probably not. And it’s no different for my children.
It’s something that I never really got until my older children (my oldest will be 26 in September. Lord.) started leaving home and doing their own thing - which is hardly ever my thing. Having that experience of older children really changes the way you parent the younger ones, I think. It leads to an odd but perfectly understandable combination of letting go and treasuring. You let go because you know you have to, that they are not you. But you treasure because you know how fast it all goes, and sooner than you know it, the little one who won’t let go of you? Well, you’ll see him twice a year. If you’re lucky.
But even with the experience of parenting older children, the emergence of a younger child’s individuality still surprises. What I’m thinking about tonight, though, isn’t even individuality - that’s obvious from birth. No…it’s the inner life of a child. The revelation of something deeper churning in that head - the beginnings of a different sort of self-awareness.
In a way, it is not fair, this thing that God does. He gives us these little creatures, beautiful and gorgeous, who need us so badly, who need us for absolutely everything, and that is the way he calls us to love them - to give and give and give through sleepless nights and exhaustion and the eventual, shocking realization that if you were called upon to give your life, you would.
WIthout hesitation, without regret.
And then, almost as soon as you get used to thinking and living this way…they start needing you less. And less. And their inner lives, which once seemed one with yours, become, so gradually, their own private place, the place where they wonder and struggle, rejoice and hurt.
Without you there.
It is hard for a parent - perhaps particularly so for a mother. But it points, as everything seems to do, to the importance - the vital importance - of introducing our children to the faithful presence of the living, loving God.
Oh yes, there will be times, to be sure, that your heart will beat fast. So fast. And you might not even be able to breathe. There will be times that there will be no one there to tell about your heart, beating so fast and hard as you face the next thing. And the next. And the next.
Your heart will beat within your chest, you will fumble, unsure what to do next. It’s true.
And it grieves my heart that for most of it, I won’t be there.
Because I won’t. Even now, I see so clearly…I’m not.
But even so, even though I will be long gone, just know this - that you will never - and I mean never - be alone.
Of course, I am not so far along as Danielle. My oldest being only 2, she still needs me for a lot. But there are already times she refuses help even if her head is through the shirt sleeve hold and her pants are on inside out and backwards. I will cherish every kiss and hug and cuddle because I know, all too soon, they will become fewer and fewer.
Melanie is having similar experiences.