Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Learning from children: Beyond the questions lies the answer

Welcome to the January Carnival of Natural Parenting: Learning from children

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared the many lessons their children have taught them. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

My first bewildered look

Before we had children, Sam and I considered it all very logically and asked a lot of meta questions.

What if we had a child just like one of our siblings? for instance. Would we be content with that? What if we had a wild child, when we're laid-back? What if we had a party-loving butterfly, considering we're socially awkward homebodies? What if we had an athlete, when we're uncoordinated and sedentary? What if our child loved camping when we both dropped out of Scouts?

But, more, what if we just didn't like our kid? What if our child, especially as he or she grew, embodied values we found distressing or unapproachable in adults — like lack of a sense of humor, or extreme clinginess, or failure of introspection, or intolerance of differences? What if our child, as an adult, repudiated all the choices we had made, prioritizing earning money over being with family, joining the opposite political party, and embracing all the belief systems we had rejected?

When Mikko came out, all 11 pounds and 13 ounces of him, I looked down at his squishy Neanderthal face and had a moment of disconnect: So this is what you look like, huh? This is what has been beating inside me for nine months? Who are you?

Part of it was the swelling and molding of vaginal childbirth, but part was that the most salient features, full lips and wide nose, were all from Sam's side of the family in those early weeks. I couldn't see a trace of me there.

And then those early months were so hard, so hard. The crying and bouncing and waiting for a sign that he understood who we were, that he cared at all, that he could communicate back some of the love we had been lavishing on him. Sam and I often wondered what we had given up to become parents — our carefree and us-centered lives, now focused on one small person.

So here we are, three and a half years later, and Mikko has grown into chubby cheeks I remember from my childhood (and in to my twenties…don't mock) and his eyes, so slitted and slate at birth, have morphed and settled into my dark green. But, you know, that's not the point. The point is what I've realized — this child never was me. He never existed to fulfill my ideals for what his character or future should embody. He is himself.

But, even more importantly? I've learned that I like him. That I cannot help liking him.

No matter who he is, no matter who he becomes, he's my child. My love for him is overwhelming and instinctual and not something I had to reach for. It just came upon me, inevitable.

I am pregnant now with our second child, and every once in awhile, I have a gasp of fear. What were we thinking? What if this is the child we cannot like? How will the two of them together get along? What new things will we be giving up to have two children rather than just one?

But, mostly, I am calm. Because I know now — it's surreal at first to meet your child, and it's hard those first months (year…), but — it gets better. You familiarize yourself with this little one, and your heart opens and swallows up every little detail down to the ringlets over the ears and the dimples dotting each knuckle. You get to know this person as he or she grows, and it's just right. This one belongs with you, and there is no doubt anymore.

That is what my child has taught me, and what my unborn child is already teaching me. That our hearts are bigger than our minds, that we were designed to love our children just because, that all our rationalizations disappear under the onslaught of cute and chubby and drool and toothless-to-toothy smiles. That, no matter what and no matter how old we both get or how much they change, we will always smile when we see our child's sweet face come into view.

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon January 11 with all the carnival links.)


stefanie said...

word! this reminds me: i used to work with a woman whose children were the worst -- trouble with the law, drugs, violent outburts, the works. she bailed them out, lent them her car, kept her home open to them and on several occasions after she'd lamented her situation i basically told her she was a pushover and an idiot. the day i gave birth, i texted her and said i was sorry; this kid could gleefully run me over with my own car and i'd still think he was precious. definitely not a feeling i'd anticipated.

mrs green @ littlegreenblog said...

Stefanie's comment sums up everything I felt in my heart too. Your post is striking lovely lady and reaches the core of every parent out there. I love this line "My love for him is overwhelming and instinctual and not something I had to reach for. It just came upon me, inevitable." So true, so so true - the overwhelming unconditional love I have for my daughter still encompasses me at time and leaves me gasping for breath. How can it be that I love another so much? Awesome stuff; thank you for putting it all into words.

melissa said...

Such a beautiful post! I, too, was a but bewildered when my daughter was first placed on my chest. I had pictured a little blondie - a tiny version of me, but she had dark hair and all of my husband's features. The more time goes on, however, the more I see that she is totally, unapologetically, herself. And I hope that she always will be.

This reminds me of Kahlil Gibran's poem, On Children. You have likely read it, but if not you ought to look it up. It's just a beautiful piece, and I think you would really appreciate it.

Olivia said...

Such true words. I also was surprised by my daughter at first. She looked so much like my husband, and she really felt like a stranger in my house. But, like you said, the love and the affection for who she is, fundamentaly, just keeps on growing.

Bethy said...

This is lovely and very true post. My husband and I often talked about the same thing when we were pregnant. He always felt overshadowed by his little brother since my husband was so different then the rest of his family. He was so nervous that he would not click with our son and make him fel the same way he feels. But that us just not the case! We love him s much and,like you sad, we can't help but like him! He is much more active and social then us and it brings us out of our shell!

Thanks for the amazing post!

Jessica Claire @ Crunchy-Chewy Mama said...

I love your just letting your child be himself. I might be imposing too much of me on my kid in my thinking about what I see of myself in him. :-)

It's funny how now that he is almost five and so into things I recall as "boy" behaviors that annoyed me (growling, making loud truck noises, being really physical), I've noticed less patience and "liking" of him. It was really clear when he was sick the other day and was just sweet like he was at three (he even took a nap, which hasn't happened much in two years). I realized how short my wick has been with his brash 4-year-old self. Reading "Your Four-Year-Old" has helped me see this as a developmental phase, and now I think that I should also renew "Raising Your Spirited Child" from the library so that I can really appreciate him for who he is instead of wanting him to be who he has already grown out of.

I love this photo strip! I've never done one of those with my son and will be on the lookout for a machine!

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

Beautiful! Before I became a mother, I'd thought I'd loved before - really, truly, passionately loved someone. How wrong I was. This motherhood gig is INCREDIBLE - the depth of emotions, the ferocity. No matter who Kieran would have been, I have no doubt I would still feel this way.

MrsH said...

That's beautiful, both the sentiment and the writing. "This one belongs with you," WITH you, really strikes me. So often we think of children as belong "to" their parents, but anyone who's loved a toddler/preschooler (school-aged, and I'm sure beyond!!) through a power struggle knows that isn't true.

Mindful Life Shop said...

What a sweet post! It is so funny to see their personalities form and flourish. My first child and I have many common interests, but her personality is very similar to her father's. Of course I love that, as I was drawn to it to begin with! My second child has taught me what it is like to live with *me*. He acts JUST like me. And that means the things I like about myself as well as the things that I don't. And amazingly enough, I'm able to laugh at the things I don't like about myself, in both myself and him! Ooooh, but they make us stretch and grow!

Erica @ ChildOrganics said...

Beautifully written post. Your photo strip is too cute, it's bursting with personality! These little people are always teaching us, aren't they?!

Melodie said...

Beautiful as always. I had those same worries when I was pregnant with my second child and I can assure you I love her just as much as the first. But it always feels weird when that comes to fruition.

Stacy (Mama-Om) said...

I remember when I was pregnant with Orlando (my first) and I would get all excited, thinking, "Oh! Maybe it [didn't know the sex] will have curly hair" or something about its future self, and then my husband and I would look at each other and put our hands on my belly and say, "We love you baby, we love you baby, already we love you for whatever it is you are."

And it is a journey -- to keep stumbling upon that realization of just who are children are, seeing them clearly, unconditionally.


Luschka said...

I have to echo what Dionna said - I had loved truly, deeply and passionately before Kyra was born, but only with her birth did I either understand what unconditional love is, or that I was even capable of such an emotion.

Beautiful post - I look forward to reading about your journey with number two.

Lindsay said...

Love this post, and it is so true. There is something about watching these little people grow and become themselves. All of my expectations and worries flew out the window when my first was born. The depth of love I feel for my kids is absolutely incredible.

Unknown said...

Yes, yes, yes! Our hearts ARE so much bigger than our minds.

I remember when Daniel was born, a few days later I was nursing him and all of a sudden I realized (and said to him, aloud), "It was YOU inside me all that time!" It's so miraculous how we invite this tiny stranger into our lives, and end up loving them more than we ever could have imagined loving someone we knew already.

Beautiful post; thanks for writing it.

Farmer's Daughter said...

I just love that last photo!

Lindsey said...

What a wonderful feeling it is to realize that your child is someone you *like*. I remember taking my daughter out to a cafe when she was about 20 months old and I so geniunely enjoyed her company I could have cried. Beautiful post.

Deb Chitwood said...

Lovely post, Lauren! What a great statement that "our hearts are bigger than our minds." There's never really any question that we'll love our children intensely and unconditionally. And it's true that even though my kids are now 20 and 25, I still smile whenever I see their faces come into view.
Deb @ LivingMontessoriNow.com

Momma Jorje said...

This reminds me...

When I discovered I was pregnant with Sasha, there was a lot of debate. I wasn't sure I would keep her. I had thought I was done having babies. I did (obviously) decide to keep her. Then when I had a threatened miscarriage, part of what made it so scary to me was that I had nearly decided to terminate on my own. Then, once I embraced the pregnancy, it was almost taken from me.

I realize how wonderfully lucky I am to have her. With each of my children (even the one I had as a teenager and gave up to my mother), I realize that my life would not be the same without them; *I* would not be the same without them.

Our experiences and the people we love (including and perhaps especially our children!), mold us into who we are. And we may question while we're still expecting, but once we meet our children and they meld into our families, we can not imagine life without them! My mother even asked me recently "Can you imagine if you had decided to to have her?" I can not.

Rachael @ The Variegated Life said...

OK, now I'm just about outright crying. You know, my mom (who died when I was 22) once said something about enjoying watching us grow up and finding out who we really are. The becoming and discovering never ends....

I'm a full-time mummy said...

Hi Lauren!

Thanks for dropping by my blog and commenting! :) I love the picture of your beautiful child!

Mama Mo said...

Yes, my heart is bigger than my mind, and sees more clearly sometimes. I always knew I would LOVE my babies, but I didn't know how big that word can grow. And I remember the day I realized I *like* being with them. I like their little personalities and we have genuine fun together. I love this motherhood gig, as Dionna said :-)

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