Parents have an ideal of the child they want to have in their mind…and what happens is they don’t get that ideal child. Parents have to learn to parent the child they have, not the child they wish they had. – James Lehman
Mr. Lehman is referring to how to address behavioral problems in this quote, but I’m going to take it in a bit of a different direction. I think it is true that most of us have a preconceived notion of what our child will be like. It’s natural to come up with this ideal while we are pregnant or waiting to adopt. We imagine how our child will look; will she have mommy’s curls and daddy’s eyes? We imagine what his temperament will be; will he be easygoing or high strung? We might imagine an energetic, outgoing daughter or a son who is sweet and shy. By the time our child arrives, we often already have an ideal in our mind of how he is going to be. We may have come pretty close, but often we are blessed with someone entirely different than we imagined.
Personal story: When I was pregnant with my first, I was sure I was having a girl. Sure right up until the moment of the ultrasound when it was announced BOY! I immediately switched gears, elated to be having a son, and I began to imagine that he would have daddy’s black hair and brown eyes. I imagined he’d be rough and tumble (boys are, right?), energetic, and outgoing. My son has brown hair and hazel eyes. He is also highly sensitive. Tags, sticky hands, surprises…these things bother him more than the average child. He puckers up at sad commercials, and I have to skip over sad parts in movies or slow, sad songs. The smallest scrape is a dire circumstance. Some parents might be inclined to toughen him up. I think a sensitive boy, with the right care, will blossom into a sensitive man. Who doesn’t want that?
Parenting the child you have isn’t just about using different tools or “techniques” for each child according to his temperament or abilities. It is about understanding and nurturing the spirit that has come to you. Each child born into this world is unique. She has her own gifts, her own purpose, her own spirit. Her own self. Our job, as parents, is to give her the care and environment she needs to blossom into SHE IS. Part of unconditional love is not trying to change our children or mold them into our ideals. They are exactly who they are meant to be.
We cannot fashion our children after our desires, we must have them and love them as God has given them to us.- Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
When we fully accept our children just as they are, we give them a tremendous gift, but they give us an even better gift in return. They give us an opportunity to grow, to heal, to learn, and to love. When we learn to love them without condition, we can expand that to ourselves, our spouses, our friends. Our relationships become better. Our lives become richer. Our children are able to fulfill their purposes and pass along the gift of unconditional love to their children and families, who pass it on to theirs, and this is how we build a more tolerant, compassionate society. It all starts just by parenting the child you have.
“The child must know that he is a miracle, that since the beginning of the world there hasn’t been, and until the end of the world there will not be, another child like him.” – Pablo Casals