I was 23 years old when I gave birth for the first time. It was hard to imagine what my son would be like when he grew up. Would he be a deep thinker like his Dad, play sports like me or maybe be a pianist like my grandfather? I didn’t know his future talent, but I was confident he’d go to college, get married and have kids one day — just like us. I was deeply in love with my son and certain that love was all I needed to raise him.
When he was 5 months old, I visited a friend whose son was 2. I couldn’t understand why she said no to him so much and why her kid kept touching everything. I’d spent my teenage years babysitting so kids were no mystery to me. I should’ve known better, but I distinctly remember thinking “I’ll never have to say no to my son because we have such a good relationship.” You can probably guess how that turned out.
Somewhere around his third birthday and the birth of my second son, I was pulling my hair out in frustration with my 3 year old’s unwillingness to comply. A friend of my sister’s left a parenting book, popular in fundamentalist Christian circles, on her coffee table. I began reading it while simultaneously breast feeding, drinking a cup of coffee and yelling, “No touch!” to my 3 year old (why we insist on using bad grammar with our toddlers confounds me). At the time, I was a sincere young Christian who’d never heard of fundamentalism, but the black-and-white method taught in the book was the magic formula I was desperate for. The book’s method, which I used religiously for years, created incredibly happy, pleasant kids.
As the years went on, I had two more sons, attended bible studies, homeschooled, made herbal tinctures and popcorn (trust me, these all go together), and by the age of 4 my boys were used to responding to my requests of, “It’s time to go,” or, “turn off the TV” with, “Yes, Mom!” My children’s path to college, marriage, careers and children of their own (who attended Sunday school of course), just like us, was right on track.
The pinnacle of my fundamentalist parenting came when we adopted two more kids (ages 5 and 2). My birth kids (who at the time were 13, 10, 8 and 6) had been given an idyllic childhood filled with books, Legos and long afternoons at the park with friends. We had so much we felt should be shared. We had not expected adoption to push us off the pinnacle and send us rolling down the other side. It took a good seven years to find our footing again.
We had not expected adoption to push us off the pinnacle and send us rolling down the other side.
In those years, the rules changed, I changed and our family changed. We expected our new kids to slide right into our lives because, up to that point, the plan was foolproof. Instead, the fundamental formula lost its magic. We had to start from scratch. I won’t give all the details because that’s not the point. The point is, when we have a baby, we have grand ideas of who our baby will become. We give them every opportunity we can afford to help them become this person. We think we know the end of the story (which is, if we’re honest, that they’ll be some better version of ourselves), but quite often the story takes a twist. Whether this twist is good or bad, or simply the way it was meant to be, depends on how you look at it.
My first baby is now 20. He doesn’t go to church like we raised him to and he’s taking a break from college (despite our constant nagging). Yet, he’s independent, happy, likes his job and loves his girlfriend. He’s living his life, not mine. My second baby is a senior in high school. When he was little, he once brought two swords and pirate hats to the playground. He saw a kid playing alone, gave him the extra sword and hat and said, “You be the captain and I’ll be your mate!” It has always been his nature to make people feel loved and accepted. Today his best friend is a girl who identifies as a boy. My son said, “I like Jamie, he or she, it doesn’t matter.” Like his friend, he’s just being who he is.
Everything I pour into my kids to help them reach their best potential is worth it, but not because it will form them into something in particular; simply because they are acts of love. We climbed a mountain and rolled down the other side, and the one thing that remained consistent is loving our kids through it all. My third, fourth, fifth and sixth babies are still young, but I know they’ll surprise me with their choices and ideas as they grow into themselves. They won’t become exactly who I expected; they will be exactly who they are and I will love every bit of them.