Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Perfect Family. It Ain't Happening. And It's a Good Thing.

The perfect family.  What a terrible goal.  And yet, it just seems like that’s what we all are trying so hard to attain and the thing at which we are failing so miserably.  I don’t mean that to sound so depressing and negative, but, let’s face it, it’s an unattainable goal.  One thing I’ve learned in my two-decade quest to have a child is that so many of things we thought we would have when we were older just don’t happen for one reason or another.  And it’s not a bad thing.  We think it is for some reason.  We think that we should have reached all those goals we set for ourselves at eight or fifteen or twenty-two.  Why is that?  Since when does an eight or fifteen or twenty-two-year-old have such amazing prophetic insight to know what we will want or what will benefit us most twenty or thirty years down the road?  Heck, I don’t even have that kind of insight for the next six weeks!

I have posted several times about this “Attachment Parenting” class that we have been taking, and will continue to post because there have been so many amazing insights and bits of information that are worth sharing in this six-session course.  This notion of having the ideal family is one of them.  As often goes with this class, there was an activity to illustrate the point.  They gave us each a sheet of paper with an outline of a child on it.  We were directed to list inside the outline all the qualities we had ever dreamed of having in our child.  What did we wish for?  What did we think our child might be like when we were younger?  Outside the outline, we were told to write all the qualities that we thought we would have as parents.  What did we want to be like as a parent?  How did we envision ourselves in that role?   What things would we do differently, because we just knew that our parents were wrong about certain things and we couldn’t wait to show them the correct way to parent.  Trying to be one step ahead of where this game was headed, I tried to make sure I was well-rounded in my wish list.  I didn’t just want a “good” kid.  I wanted him or her to be independent and creative and have a good work ethic.  And I wanted to look like a great parent and say that I wanted to be involved and affectionate and disciplined.  And there is nothing wrong with any of these things.  In fact, I thought I had a pretty good list.  But, I was surprised with what happened next.  One of the other teachers picked up a trash can and walked over to our tables and said “now throw it away”.  And she made each of us crinkle up that paper with our well-thought out descriptions and throw it towards her as she caught it in the trash can.  They told us to go ahead and mourn the loss of that ideal, get over it and move on.  It was a light bulb moment.

The thing is, how can we know how life is going to turn out?  How can we have even a ten percent chance of being accurate with what twists and turns our lives will take?  Now, some people know what they want to be when they grow up and they go out and they do it.  But it’s rare.  Most of us have goals and dreams, but the tides and swells take us this way and that and we adjust and shift our focus and move on to other things.  And that’s amazing.  Human beings are so flexible and can go with the flow in so many ways.  So why do we look back on it and wonder what happened to those dreams?  I’ll tell you what happened to them.  Life.  That’s what happened.  And it’s a good thing.  Go with it.  Because more often than not, we get more interesting and incredible opportunities than we even knew existed at eight or fifteen or twenty-two.  And often, we are faced with things we never would have chosen, and after fighting through those battles, we realize that we are better people because of it and never would have become who we are without those challenges.  And that is the point with raising kids, and especially adopting kids.  Our family may not look like or act like the family we thought we would have.  We may have gotten kids through a completely different channel than we had planned.  And they come with relationships and baggage and all kinds of things we never expected.  But we need to see that our life has a greater purpose than making a beautiful Christmas card  photo.  We have work to do.  We have children to help and love and raise.  We have so many ways that we can make a difference in this world and in the lives of others and that is fulfilling and life-changing.  It will bring happiness if we can throw away that dusty image in our minds that we created decades ago and that is pinned in our brains as the ideal life.  We are going to have bad days.  We are going to have days where we feel that we are the worst parents in the world.  Our kids are going to pitch fits and embarrass us in public.  Our kids will have mental and physical challenges.  They might have birth defects or ADD or be painfully shy.  They might struggle with self-confidence, or go through difficult phases of biting or hitting or spitting or all of the above.  They might tell us they hate us or that we aren’t their real parents.  We might have days where we aren’t feeling so much love for them.  We might have days where we aren’t feeling so much love for ourselves.  We will get sick, sometimes with long-term, debilitating illnesses.  We will get frustrated and lonely and depressed.  And that’s okay, because we will have many more wonderful moments and even entire days.  And we will mercifully catch glimpses of perfection when our children look into our eyes and we know for a fact that we’ve made a connection and we know that they know that we love them and that we are in it for the long haul.  Even forever. 

The thing is, we aren’t here to have a perfect family.  We are here to give our children the best opportunity at perfecting themselves that we can offer.  And I don’t mean that they need to be perfect, but that they have the best chance of being their best self.  So crinkle up that ideal list in your mind and throw it away.  Burn it if you have to, so you can’t possibly dig it out of the trash.   And then grab your kids and go to the zoo.  Do some craft project with them and don’t worry if it makes a mess or if they don’t follow your directions to a tee.  Just revel in the fact that you are spending time with them and that there is love there.  Hug them, laugh with them, accept them and nurture them.  And relax and know that that is what family is all about.

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