I think we all have hopes and dreams for our kids before they are even born. That's normal, I'm fairly certain. Sometimes we project lost dreams we had for ourselves onto our poor, innocent children and that's no bueno. Oftentimes we see our children as an extension of ourselves and feel that their behavior, success, failure, attitude, etc reflects directly back on us. Not just our parenting, but on our identity. That was me.
I'm a pretty classic co-dependent. So I feel responsible for everyone around me and see their behavior as a reflection of my value. (Disclaimer: I don't actually feel that way anymore. Jesus has done a lot of work in my heart over the last 6 years.) So--poor Jackson. He was doomed from the get-go. Also, he's not a girl. Girl babies do things well. They are high achievers, going for the gold in fine-motor skills development, alertness, and communication. I had friends with girl babies. We had play groups and play dates together and so Jackson was unfairly compared to little babies of the over-achieving sex. And I thought something was wrong with him.
"He's not grabbing the rattle like she is. What if he's slow?"
"She's already feeding herself with a spoon. What's wrong with him?"
"He won't sit still during library reading time. I'm so embarrassed."
"Why doesn't he hold my hand while we walk? Everyone else's kids do."
Ring a bell? And it doesn't stop once they're older. Oh no. Then they're in school and the teachers are comparing them to the other students. You're surrounded by super-PTA-moms who make crafts and their kids are on the honor roll and all the teachers love them. You know, the "model students".
Meanwhile, my poor kid is just having fun being a kid. And I'm seeing him as an extension of myself, projecting my identity issues onto him and getting angry when he's not who I want to be. What the &^*%$&!!! If you haven't yet proclaimed that over your crazy-town mind, let me be the first to invite you. It's such a relief. We all have a crazy-town inside of us. Once you recognize it, it's much easier to quiet it.
So I guess step one in listening to your child is this: Realize that he is not an extension of me. She's not, you know. She is an individual, only an extension of God, in that she was created in His image. Not yours, my dear. Let that be a relief to you! She has a heart, mind, body, soul, and spirit of her own. And you get to learn about her, just like when you meet someone entirely new. What a great gift to give our children: an interest in who they are and who they are becoming.
When I was going through divorce in 2007 and learning about co-dependency, I was adamant that I would not lead Jackson down a path that would cause him to repeat a cycle of addiction and/or codependency. And I was scared. A wonderful woman named Sandy that was my pastor's wife in Virginia spent a lot of time with Jackson. And she told me that she could tell that he was very spiritually sensitive. That changed everything for me.
We started having more God-themed conversations. I read The Message to him at breakfast and lunch and dinner when he was just 4 years old. He loved it! His little mind pondered the world and he constantly asked me questions about God. Although I was unsure of our future as a family, it was such a rich time of reaching into Jackson's heart and really getting to know him.
What God showed me was that He knew what was best for Jackson. He knew Jackson's heart and His plans for his future. He made Jackson to be one in 7 billion--totally unique! And it is my job, as his mom, to watch and listen and learn and guide. Sometimes that means doing what is fun for the kid. Other times that means encouraging the boy to complete something that is difficult or boring.
Often times it means allowing the child to be different from all the other kids and embracing him through it. Home school? Sure, why not? Parkour instead of boy scouts? Ok, let's do it. Computer time instead of soccer? It fits.
The most important piece of advice we can give ourselves is to stop worrying what other people think of us or our kids. Once we let that go, we can really listen to our kids and to God. What I'm hopeful for is the future, when I see more of the person God has created Jackson to be and how he will impact the world around him.
Do you struggle with seeing your child as an extension of yourself? Leave a comment and let's talk about it!