My kids are older now and having older kids can be kinda scary. Not that having younger kids isn't scary. Some of us have spent the duration of parenthood downright terrified of the responsibility involved in raising the screaming masses set before us. But having older kids is just different. As I lay awake last night with my old buddy, Migraine, I tried to understand it. I think it all has to come down to control. Or rather the illusion of control.
It is easy to think, and in some cases it is true, that we can control
our children when they are young. And it is easy to think, and some
"experts" will tell us, that if we control our children when they are
young we will, in effect, control them when they are old. They use
Proverbs 22:6 ("Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is
old, he will not depart from it.") ad nauseum as a guarantee for their
formula for success.
But the fact of the matter is, we can influence, but we can never truly
control. The younger they are, the more variables we can control, but we
can never really control them, because we can never really control
Control is such an evil sounding word (think Big Brother) but we all want it. You might be the most baby-averse person
on the planet but open your loins and push out that bundle and in no
time there is nothing you wouldn't do to protect that pile of squawking,
wrinkled flesh. God made us that way.
But from the very beginning, even before the very beginning, there was
so, so much we could never control. We can't control if we conceive,
unless we opt for in vitro, in which case we can't control if the
fertilized egg will take. We can't control if the baby will thrive or
die in utero. We can't control when we go into labor, though from the
dawn of time, we have tried . . . OH HOW WE'VE TRIED!
Babies should be easy enough. We can control where they are, who they
are with, what they wear, etc., but those of my friends with newborns—and the rest of us, if we can even remember those early days (likely
erased forever due to a combination of sleep deprivation and shock)—know that you can't make a baby sleep. Or eat, for that matter. You can
lead a horse to water but . . . .
Older kids and even toddlers really aren't any different. We can
childproof the house into Fort Knox and serve up only the healthiest of fare but somehow . . . SOMEHOW, unless our little wonders are kept in the dog
kennel 24/7 (and even then...these kids are tiny Houidinis of the
cleverest type), SOMETHING'S gonna happen. That's why stitches were invented, and Dust Busters, and Poison Control. You can't really get ahead
of a kid or get into his head. (It truly never occurred to me to tell my
8 year-old son not saw open an aerosol can with a steak knife. To his
credit, he claims he knew to check and make sure it was empty first and,
indeed, nothing blew up.)
Then there is school. Ah, the choice that has split a thousand churches, or
so I've heard. Parents have different reasons the education
choices they make for their children. Homeschooling obviously provides
greater variable control and public schooling probably the least, but it
is still the variables that we are controlling and sometimes not even
those very well. We opted for moderate variable control and sent our kids
to a very solid Christian school. But even there, there were dud
teachers, and evil science fair projects, and unfair athletic coaches,
and taunting classmates. Even there, there was heartache. Nothing
crushes a mother's heart than when her third grade daughter gets into
the car at the end of the school day and hands her a note: "Mommy,
nobody would sit with me at lunch today." No control over her broken
heart. No control at all.
It never ceases to amaze me how different kids are. And a lot of
it has to do with temperament, and temperament—or how we are wired and
knit together in our mother's womb—is not something we can control.
Take my two oldest children. Same two parents (I promise—I was there),
both girls, born less than two years apart. Same rules, same variables,
same schooling, same younger siblings, same major life events, same
bedroom for 18.5 years. And you would never even guess that they are
remotely related. They are both beautiful (an objective fact), but in
vastly different ways. Their personalities, interests, strengths, and
weaknesses are so different they can have a tough time even relating
(maturity is making that easier). Don't anybody ever tell me that all
kids are alike!
We don't wire our children. God does. It is like he sends them into this
world with a backpack filled with their hair color, eye color, body
type, personality traits, learning style, athletic ability, and on and
on. And none of these things we can control (except for hair color, but
that's another story).
I think you get my point. I've already written too much. Parenthood is
hard. It is **** hard. But I think it is harder when we think we have
control over something that we really don't. Sure, we can lead that horse
to water . . . well, even that depends on the skill of the one leading and
the temperament of the horse itself. But say we actually get the horse
to the water, there is no power outside of the God of the universe that
can make that horse drink.
Sure, from the very beginning, we can (and in a lot of cases should) control
many basic things. What they eat (sometimes). What they wear (well, if
you want to get OCD about it). Who teaches our children and what they
teach them. What movies they watch and what music they hear (for a while,
anyway). We can control who they play with, when they get their driver's
license, and maybe even where they go to college. Basically, we can
control, to a certain extent, what goes in. We cannot control how it is
perceived and how it is processed and how plays out in their lives. Yes,
we can speak, guide, discipline, model, train (for some reason that
word makes my skin crawl), but we can never truly control them because
we can never control their heart.
That fact brings me great relief. I am not qualified to control my
child's heart. I didn't create it, I don't keep it beating every second
of every minute of every hour of every day. I am so thankful that the
very Creator of my child's heart is the one who can work his will in it.
Last I saw, I had not been given the title of Holy Spirit. I'll take
the influencing and do the best I can, but I think I'll leave the
controlling up to him.