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Adoptive Parenting Columnist Heidi Hess Saxton
Why Am I Like This, God?
Last weekend we attended the “adoption ceremony” of Christopher and Sarah’s older brother, who was finally adopted by a wonderful couple with two grown children. We invited ourselves back to their place after the luncheon at the church – and found the place spotless. Not a wrapper or dog hair in sight. “I’m impressed,” I told her. “Normally I have to shovel a pathway inside the house for unexpected guests.” She chuckled … I think she assumed I was kidding. Let her.
They live next door to her in-laws (I think), who have a farm with sheep and horses and cows and cats and all sorts of fun things to see and do. Dressed in their Sunday best, the kids asked to go see the baby lambs, and I had a difficult choice to make. “Expert,” forward-thinking moms no doubt would have pointed out the folly of running into … cow residue with good Sunday clothes; organized types would have whipped out a change of clothing from the back of the van. As I am typically neither of these things, I just grabbed Sarah’s hand and went along on the adventure. Later, out of deference to Natalie’s spotless house, we took our shoes off at the door when we went back inside, but I’m afraid ample evidence followed us in. To her credit, Kenny’s new mom only wrinkled her nose a tiny bit.
On the way home, I began to think of the piles of laundry waiting to be put away and the dining room floor in need of sweeping at our house, and wished I could be a little more like Natalie. It’s a bad habit I’ve harbored most of my life, I’m afraid. I envy some friends -- not about anything as superficial as a nice house or a husband who takes out the trash or picks up his socks without being reminded, but for qualities or characteristics that consistently elude me and they possess in abundance: patience, self-control, and the simple ability to keep an orderly home.
Truth be told, I was like this long before I got married. First as a Protestant and later as a Catholic, I was always running into these ethereal, soft-spoken creatures whose inner beauty radiated peace and tranquility. They prayed in sonnets and sang like angels. Men lined up for blocks just to walk them to class or take them to dinner. (Invariably, my latest crush was among them.) But Sister Serene would just blush and wave, then head off to dinner with … me and her other girlfriends. “You make me laugh,” she’d say to me by way of explanation.
As time passed, I faced up to the fact that I would never be an “angelic” soul. I blame it on (who else?) my mother: She named me after the book she was reading while she was expecting, not realizing that “Heidi” is a derivative of Adeleide, meaning “battle maiden.” It’s an unfortunate combination, really: Being constitutionally incapable of either settling for the “easy answer” or keeping my mouth shut when a perceived inconsistency arises … Well, let’s just say I’ve lived up to my name.
As a writer, I’ve found this “gift” comes in handy. As a parent, these tendencies present some challenges, because children magnify our shortcomings – it’s their job. For example, this week I was reading Gordon Neufeld’s Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers, which points out that our ability to bond with our children when they are little will enable us to parent them more effectively after they start bonding with their peers. This “bonding,” at its core, is based on the child’s confidence that her parent is going to meet her needs consistently, and is a “safe” person to turn to for comfort and sense of security.
When I first contemplated this idea, I admit I panicked. As a child I often felt my parents – who had their hands full with my chronically ill sister – had left me to my own devices, to look out for not only myself but my younger sister as well. They did this not out of deliberate neglect, but simply because there was not enough time and energy to go around. This tendency stuck with me and, combined with a series of other unfortunate life experiences, made me an inordinately … self-reliant individual. I did not marry until I was 35, and my parenting style still tends toward what might be most charitably called laissez faire. Focus on the immediate need, tackle it, repeat.
On the other hand, as I looked at my daughter sitting in her car seat, her feet still wet where we tried to hose them off, I realized that my womanly skills were not worse than Natalie’s – only different.
All parents, whether parenting your own progeny or someone else’s, sometimes think Johnny or Susie would be happier or better adjusted if only they could be more (or less) ________. And yet, just as people are seldom all good or all bad, each characteristic has its strengths and weaknesses. The secret is found not in turning in your particular gifts for another set – God gave you those gifts for a reason. The trick is “strengthening” each weakness with its corresponding virtue. In my case, being willing to learn from my more orderly/serene counterparts without negating my own strengths.
For example, I doubt my “angelic” friends could have stomached the particular pathway God prepared for me. It takes a certain amount of grit to parent children with genetic and emotional challenges while at the same time fulfilling other aspects of my particular vocation – in my case, writing and editing to support my family and help other people. It took a certain tenaciousness just to survive the experiences that God is now using from my life, past and present, to help people who are struggling, too.
In the same way, your gifts no doubt have their “flip” sides, weak areas that at times you are tempted to pick apart and wish away. Don’t. You probably have experiences in your past that you regret, life choices that if you had to make over again you’d do differently. The problem is: You can’t. The good news is: God can use it anyhow, if you offer it back to Him for healing and redemption.
This “Big Picture” attitude is at the very heart of “other” parenting (adoptive, foster, step, custodial, and other kinds of real but non-biological parenting). While we can and should influence our children for good, the truth is that there are some things about our children that we can neither control nor change – and yet, we also need to remember that this is the pathway God has prepared for them. Their gifts also have a “flip” side, too. If we are wise, we will teach them to cherish the good things, reinforce the weaknesses with habits of virtue … and trust the rest will come in time.
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