Five years ago if you’d told me this was what my life would look like, I might’ve laughed and said yeah right. I was in Scotland working on a PhD at the University of Edinburgh (on the topic of Theological Ethics and Prenatal Testing). If my life was a movie, I was director, producer and screenwriter: I ate, slept, relaxed and researched when I wanted. How I spent my money and how I spent my time were things I talked to the Lord about, but I didn’t really have to consult any one else.
Times have changed.
These days, I am excited if I manage to get a shower before noon. Some days I’m excited that I managed to get one at all. And please don’t ask me when I last had a chance to shave my legs — I have a newborn.
For the past few weeks around our house, we’ve been celebrating poop. Yes, you read that right. Poop. And not just any poop – the kind that my two-year-old poops, directly into the potty. The fact that he can go on his own and no longer needs diapers is a cause for celebration similar to a Hail Mary Game Winning Touchdown Pass thrown in the final seconds for my favourite football team to win a post-season bowl game. My arms shoot into the air, victorious, and along with much rejoicing, the pooper gets rewarded with a couple of m&m’s or smarties and lots of praise.
On the other hand, the accidents are pretty discouraging. The times when we ask if he needs to wee, he says no and two seconds later wets his pants are tough. And frustrating.
If I could, I would want to make him potty trained. If I had control, things would look different, and we wouldn’t be doing extra laundry or debating throwing a poop-filled pair of underwear in the trash.
I want to be able to help my kid overcome obstacles, and I often feel the easiest way would be for me to take control.
I like control.
But if parenthood has taught me anything, I’m beginning to learn the lesson that I’m not in control. And my kid really learned to use the potty when I stopped being the micromanaging Mommy towering over him and asking if he needed to wee every five minutes. It has taken some letting go and letting him make mistakes for him to learn this life skill – and for me to learn how to help him.
Whether our children have allergies or ADHD, whether they’re in treatment for acute myeloid leukaemia or an attitude adjustment, they welcome us into the world of the out-of-control as soon as they enter our lives. I don’t say that to belittle the health issues that our families may be facing: I say it to emphasize the fact that no matter what, we’re not in control.
As my two-year old adjusts to the presence of a baby brother in the house, I am also adjusting to his independence, and the joys and difficulties neatly wrapped up inside the autonomy package. You’ve had enough stickers today. Yes, it is bath time. Upstairs, now. No, it’s not snack time — you should’ve finished your lunch. Don’t make me ask you again. I hear these grownup things coming out of my mouth, and I’ve even come face to face with myself as a child, while informing Mr. Independent that he stays at the table until he finishes his meal.
I think to myself: If only I could make him obey. Life would be good.
All these thoughts bring me back to the beautiful mystery of free will. God could’ve created us in such a way that we had no choice but His way, but He chose not to. We could’ve been a bit more like robots and a bit less like, well, like children. We could’ve been perfect.
But robots don’t keep very good company. As those Creation decisions were being made, God clearly saw an intrinsic value in our free will – our ability to choose to love Him back, without Him forcing our hands or our hearts. There is an incalculable value in someone choosing to love you that cannot be achieved if you hold a gun to their head and say “Tell me you love me.” And there is an intrinsic value in each decision to obey God and walk in His ways that just wouldn’t be part of the equation if choice were out of the question.
We choose every day.
This brings me to the challenging realization that the free will of our children is something worth celebrating. It is evidence that there is a God who loves us enough to let us choose to love Him back. And instead of trying to force my child’s hand, or his heart, each day is an opportunity for me to guide him and help him make the right choices.
His decisions, his health, even his life, are not in my control. But this crazy thing called parenthood is my opportunity to help him learn to make good choices. So instead of forcing his hand, I’m working on helping him choose well. Instead of getting overwhelmed by imperfection, I’m working on turning mistakes into learning opportunities.
If I serve a God who is able to cause all things to work together for good – who chooses to redeem my past mistakes and turn those ashes into beauty – then parenthood is an opportunity to follow His lead, and to celebrate the beauty of sharing life –life lived gracefully out of control.
The privilege to enjoy it belongs to us as parents. The choice to enjoy it does, too.