“I feel like you expect me to be perfect and you expect NOTHING from Shelby.” Whoa. This was the crescendo of an argument my husband and I were having with our typical child – in which she threw her special needs sibling in our faces. *Sigh* Hard to know how to respond to that. While it’s not true that we expect NOTHING from Shelby, who is developmentally 2 years old, what we accept as appropriate behavior and contribution from her is very different from Allie, who is a very bright 11 year old. This conversation (can you still call it that when voices are raised?) led me to really examine the parental expectations – and therefore, pride – my husband and I have for each of our children.
Chandler, my 25 year old step-son, did not live under our roof the majority of his rearing years. Because of this is was difficult to establish clear-cut expectations on many things and we often made concessions for the fact that he divided his time between the rules of two households. Now that he is grown and on his own, what his dad and I expect is irrelevant. He is a self-motivated medical school student who is also a husband and dad to 3 kids (soon to be 4). He also graduated in the top 10% of his class at Air Force officer training school this summer. I am surprised that I haven’t had to sew all the buttons back onto Chuck’s shirts anytime he boasts in Chandler’s accomplishments. We couldn’t be more proud of the young man he is becoming. Allie, although at a challenging pre-adolescent age, is beautiful, smart, outgoing, Jesus-loving, and gifted at so many things. And then there is Shelby. Although she is constantly learning, she has not really hit any new developmental milestones in the last 10 years. A tough place to be. And to Allie’s point, Shelby is not really expected to contribute much to the daily operation of our household. And yet, I could not be more proud of who she is. How can this be?
I came across a Focus on the Family article suggesting that the kind of pride a mom or dad feels for a child is really an expression of the delight the parent feels in the child. God the Father indulged in it Himself when He spoke during Jesus’ baptism saying, “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). Although this deep sense of satisfaction CAN be attributed to a child’s accomplishments, it can also be attributed to appreciation for who the child is. Psychology Today says that our culture’s message is that results matter above all else. And results do matter. You are lying if you say they don’t. If good performance was of no consequence, we wouldn’t care that Chandler is in medical school, or that Allie shines on a stage and makes good grades. Those things matter, but they should not be of most importance. I have often told Allie that we expect much of her because she is capable of much. But I have also told her that on the day she was born, I could not have been more proud of her – and she had accomplished absolutely nothing.
I am proud of the accomplishments of all my children. On any given day, that could be an “A” in a class for an 11 year old, or going “tee tee” in the potty for my 16 year old. But more importantly, I delight in who God made each of them to be. Although all 3 of them frustrate and disappoint me at times, I cannot be around any of them very long without praising God for the fearful and wonderful ways they are made. And my prayer is that, at the end of the day, my delight in them will be what they remember. Based on this first sentence of this article, I’ve got some work to do.