What kind of parent do I want to be?
I don't know about you, but I ask myself that a lot. When I'm second-guessing myself, decisions I've made as a parent, I ask it in bed at night, and it keeps me awake. When I'm feeling like I'm doing OK, I ask it in the morning, and it energizes me.
Lately I've been listening a lot to "Joseph's Lullaby," an original Christmas-inspired song by the contemporary Christian band MercyMe. If you're not religious, please just stick with me on this one for a minute, because I'm not trying to proselytize or preach here.
The song is a fictional lullaby sung by Joseph to his adopted son. And as he's rocking this tiny baby to sleep, his only prayer is that this child can have a moment, maybe a night, of normalcy. He's praying for as much normalcy for his child as he can beseech of its true Father.
This lullaby is counter to everything we do in modern parenting.
Modern Parents have no idea whether their children are bound for greatness. We can't know where our children will go, what marks they will leave, what talents or abilities they will develop into professions or causes or missions. But we don't let that lack of knowledge impede our certainty that Greatness is the only acceptable outcome for our children.
We're testing them in organized sports and activities practically as soon as they can walk. We're having them do weights and conditioning before they can do long division or diagram a sentence. We're demanding perfection on that piano or violin solo before they know how to boil water. Because when we pray -- to the deity we worship or into the void of our own psyches -- what we pray for is Greatness for our child.
Greatness, we seem to think, would be a confirmation of everything we have done as parents. Everything we have "sacrificed" by taxiing them to a practice or rehearsal or lesson every dang night of the week. Everything we have "sacrificed" in paying those coaches and instructors and tutors. Everything we have "sacrificed" by giving this little creature our energy, our love, our time and attention.
If they can be Great when they grow up, then that investment was worth it. If they're just, y'know, Normal -- you know, middle-class, menial, average, vanilla -- well, then we wasted a lot of time and energy for such a pitiful outcome when we could've been in Vegas partying like it was 1999, right?
For Joseph, at least in this song, he sees his duty as the polar opposite. Nodding off in his arms is the Flash Gordon-esque Savior Of The Universe who stands for every one of us, saves with a mighty hand, every man every woman every child in the land. This baby is destined for greatness, and no amount of screwing up or making mistakes will interfere with that destiny.
So Joseph prays for what he worries the child may never have: a childhood. Innocence. Dreams of his own. An unburdened heart. A chance to enjoy the journey rather obsess over the destination.
I ask that he, for just this moment, simply be my child.
How often do we as parents ask for such simple things of our deities for our children?
Parents of children with difficulties -- diseases or illnesses, challenges or imbalances -- tend to initially yearn for "normal." They sometimes can't help but wince when hearing parents of healthy if dysfunctional kids complain about the universal struggles and battles of family life. Messy rooms. Bad attitudes. Social struggles. Backtalk.
But so many of these parents reach this amazing and beautiful zen state of acceptance, and they learn to love their children for whatever they are, whatever they can become, for however long those kids are alive. If you know a parent in these situations, it's likely you admire the hell out of them. You and everyone else say, "I don't know how they do it." Because they have this calm acceptance about them. It's not that they can't have bad days or hair-pulling moments, but more often than not it's like they see something deeper that we can't.
But we can. We can, if we just open our eyes and make a simple request, to God and to ourselves, every day:
Simply be my child.