Fears, “Shoulds,” and Treasure Hunts
“I learned a long time ago that my children would inherit one of two things: either God’s promises, or my fears.” — Lisa Bevere
I don’t consider myself a fearful person. I’m free-spirited, tend to wear my heart on my sleeve, and don’t map out my future with much detail.
Suddenly two people exist in my world who make my heart burst with love, and whose destinies are seemingly up to me to decide. Will they be kind? Will they be socially conscious? Will they love God? Will they love themselves? Will they make wise decisions? I want them to dodge every mistake I’ve ever made and avoid every heartache I’ve ever felt. And if I parent them well, I can, right?
When I write it out like that, of course it seems absolutely unrealistic. But in my day-to-day, that doesn’t stop me from trying. I will raise a daughter who is secure in her identity. I will raise a son who never feels limited by a label. Those, and a million other hopes and dreams that are deeply important and valuable — and yet ultimately not up to me.
As I write this, my mind takes me to a moment last year that stopped me in my tracks. One of my best friends (and my daughter’s Godmother) and I were doing an Instagram live together discussing parenting and race. We began talking about what my daughter’s identity development will look like as she grows up, being half-white American, half-Kenyan, and growing up in the U.S. where (in a sense) she is also African-American. I casually mentioned, “I’m gonna have to re-read Dreams from my Father and get some wisdom from Barack!” My friend replied graciously but firmly, something like: “…or she’ll carve a new path and decide for herself what her background means to her.”
I felt rebuked (in the best of ways, as only your closest friends can) and also… lighter. I realized I had been carrying this self-imposed, impossible expectation that I was the sole bridge between my children and their experience and understanding of the world — the sole influence on how they will bloom, on who they will be. Now, don’t get my wrong: at ages 6 and 2, my kids are definitely most heavily influenced by their mom and dad at this stage. But that won’t always be the case. And when they’re “out in the world,” will I be fixated on wielding my power over how they “turn out,” or will I be a steady, nurturing operating base from which they can explore?
That’s a big difference. It doesn’t mean that our choices as parents don’t matter — they matter deeply. What it does mean is that parenting is not me, as an artist, painting the masterpiece that is my child. That’s God’s job. Maybe I’m more like a lovely grass green amidst all the other colors on the palette that God dips into as He pleases, my guidance and love swirling in unexpected ways into the finished product. Or as Paul Tripp puts it — in the only parenting book I’ve managed to read cover-to-cover*:
“Parenting is not first about what we want for our children or from our children, but about what God in grace has planned to do through us in our children.”
It’s a mindset shift that is so much easier said than done. At the end of the day — if I can be real with y’all — my happiest daydreams are of my daughter becoming an activist and eventually president of the United States (or Kenya!), while performing on Broadway in her spare time. (Just typing that puts a giddy smile on my face!) But that dream has everything to do with me, and involved zero consultation with the One who actually created her and placed her own unique gifts inside her, just waiting to be uncovered.
I want to be a Treasure Hunt Parent. When I came across that phrase in Glennon Doyle’s Untamed, I’m pretty sure I broke down crying because it felt so beautiful and so hard at the same time.
“When it comes to who my children are, I don’t want to be an Expectations Parent. I don’t want my kids striving to meet an arbitrary list of preconceived goals I have created for them. I want to be a Treasure Hunt Parent. I want to encourage my children to spend their lives digging, uncovering more and more about who they already are, and then sharing what they discover with those lucky enough to be trusted by them. When my child uncovers a gem inside and pulls it out for me to see, I want to widen my eyes and gasp and applaud.”
She continues with this directive: “un-God yourself.” In other words, resist the urge to author the narrative. Remove the “shoulds” that cloud our vision of the unique creations standing in front of us. Say to our children, in word and deed: “My only expectation is that you become yourself. The more deeply I know you, the more beautiful you become to me.”
When I reflect on this, I simultaneously feel so inadequate and so freed. Inadequate, because resisting my desire for control is a daily battle. Freed, because God’s hands are a far safer place for my children to be than my own.
More than anything, though, I feel excited — and of all the emotions that parenting brings, that’s a pretty great one, right? When I think of how much I have yet to learn about these small, wonderfully complex humans living in my home, my heart skips a beat. They deserve my wonder, my awe, my delight. By God’s grace, I hope to walk in that more and more each day.
*This should communicate two things: One, if you’re looking for a parenting expert, look elsewhere, lol. Two, get into this book! It’s SO essential (although I guess I’d be a terrible judge of that, since I haven’t read the competition). It’s called Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family.