Song and Dance
BY ALAN SHAPIRO
Whew! This poem stabbed me in the heart.
All fall, I've been reflecting on how certain I was, when my kids were tiny, that my children could be trained to become everything I wanted them to be. I wouldn't have said that, of course, but I lived it. Enough positive reinforcement mixed with consistent time outs, consistent schedules, a perfect concoction of vitamins, and limited amounts of television just had to produce mild mannered, respectful, pious, industrious daughters and sons. The books promised it would. And I'd try to be perfect, only I'm not - so that was a problem. And, darn it, these kids seemed to have a mind of their own! "What gives?!" I'd wonder, and start pouring through the manuals trying to pinpoint where I went wrong. My kids shouldn't have temper tantrums, talk back, despise chores, balk at evening prayers, argue incessantly with their siblings. What does that say about ME, as their mother? Everyone's looking at ME, right?
My children, to me, became their behaviors, their childish decisions. I wouldn't have said that of course, but too often I've lived it. Too often I've agonized over their failings and worked myself into a frustrated frenzy trying to force contrition upon them. I could not be satisfied until it was fully understood that I, as the parent, knew best...and was right. And guess how often that happens, especially as the children get older? Lest I doom myself (and my family) to a continual state of tension and misunderstanding, I am learning to throw out old ideals, toss off my pride and create boundaries.
By boundaries, I mean emotional buffers. I mean, the roller coasters of emotions rocking my preteens don't need to rock me. I've been there (ages 11 through 18), done that. And now I best serve my darlings in the thick of it by staying calm, unflustered - by seeing beyond the angst into their Christ adored souls. Of course there must be consequences for ridiculousness but what isn't necessary is for my own joy and peace to be wrapped up in their messy, lesson fraught, up and down journey into adulthood; that's too much pressure on a kid. They need to feel safe to unload on me, to fail sometimes, to ask difficult questions, to doubt, without fear of breaking me or disappointing me. My kids will absolutely make choices I don't approve of, just like I made choices my parents didn't like. And I will have to get over the fact that they will be judged, and I along with them, by others who don't approve. And God-willing I will absorb that sting and be damn sure I never, ever point fingers at another mother or father. Parenting is a tough, tough job. We need to be good to each other.
So back to the poem, and why it floors me. Here I am emerging from a fog of misconceptions, alert now to the truth that I do not have it in me to micro-manage my children into "successes" (whatever that means) or out of necessary struggles. What I can do, however, and what brings me increasingly more satisfaction than anything in the world, is to make our home a safe, warm, loving place to come back to at the end of the day - a haven from the world with all its busyness and ambitions. What I can do is pray for my kids, and become a living example of the unconditional, unbiased, patient, forgiving Christ-like love I long for them to cling to, and pass on.
We are family, for better or worse. And we're bound up together, we come together "as is" for support and encouragement. My babies are hungry, and their hunger is sweet. It is an honor to serve them.