I hear a lot of people talk about the sacrifices they have made for their children. What have we really given up? The time to ourselves, the money for…well for just about everything their little hearts desire, and let’s be honest, every single decision we make now is pretty much based around the fact that we have these precious, little human beings that depend on us.
We don’t get to exercise the way we want, we never get enough sleep, we don’t spend alone time with our spouses, we don’t see our friends often enough, etc., etc. If you are a parent, like me, you may not think of these things often, but you know this is all true. Being a parent changes our lives and it should.
I don’t think of these things often only because what my children have given me in return for all of the sacrifices is so much greater than what has been given up. It’s hard to really miss anything from the “time before children”. The good morning kisses and hugs, the giggles, the endless curiosity, the learning and growing together…it is all so overwhelmingly beautiful, that the “time before children” actually sounds pretty B-O-R-I-N-G to me today. See how exciting our lives are??? This is us being monkeys on our way to the zoo last summer…exciting, I know.
There is one way in which my children have changed me that I am particularly thankful for. One thing, one dramatic change, one attribute that I have given up entirely that has transformed my life for the better. For my children, or more so, thanks to my children, I have given up perfection (I was never really great at it anyway…).
When my son was born I was 23 years old. I thought I knew a lot. I thought I had most things figured out. I felt pretty in-control over most things in my life (ha! Today I know we are never in control but we’ll talk through that another time). So I figured being a parent would be just the same. I would have this tiny boy, teach him right from wrong, follow a very specific formula of schedules, time in the corner for being naughty, stories before bed, and in the end of this by-the-book raising, I would produce a perfect little boy. He would be polite, honest, outgoing, intelligent, charming…all of that good stuff that you imagine your child will be and he wouldn’t ever even make mistakes (ugh, today even typing that makes me sad but it was the truth then). This is Jace and I shortly after I returned to work from my maternity leave. Isn’t he just the sweetest??? And in this picture, at this moment in time, I’m still so incredibly clueless…
I’ll never forget the day that I gave up raising a perfect child. I was picking Jace up from the babysitter’s (aka – grandma’s house) after a long day of work. Jace was about two. I was trying to get his coat on and get him out of the door to go home and he WAS NOT LISTENING. He wasn’t complying. He was literally running from me. Before I knew it, I scooped him up into my arms and swatted him on the behind (not hard and through a diaper but a swat none-the-less). He looked up to me, unable to connect that I was the person who had just put my hands on him, his blue eyes filled with tears and he stopped dead in his tracks and cried. And then, I broke. I sat down, put my head in my hands and cried my eyes out. I can only imagine what my parents thought. I think they must have been more worried about me than Jace because they knew I hadn’t physically harmed him, but me…I was definitely hurting.
That moment was the start of a change in me but it wasn’t the end of my story. That day Jace was doing nothing worse than being two years old. At one point someone asked me, “If you die tomorrow, what legacy do you want to leave in your children?” I thought about this. I realized that I didn’t even want perfect children. No, I didn’t and I still don’t. True, I want my children to have manners, compassion, empathy but not perfection. I want them to be messy and wild (well sometimes at least!). I want them to be passionate and make mistakes. I want them to know that they can fall down and always stand back up and start again. The falls are where we create our character and the standing back up is where we build our strength.
Most of all, I want them to know their mom loves THEM. Not that she loves the idea of them, the good things they do, the ways they succeed…no, I want them to know that I even love the ways they can’t sit still when they should, that I love them when they get so excited that they talk out of turn. I love my son when he is so shy that he can’t look at someone when they talk to him, that I love my daughter when she refuses to eat (which btw is about 80% of the time). That when they’re both talking in my ear 100 mph at the same time and I start to feel like my hair is going to fall out (or am I pulling it out???) that I still love them, even in those moments, maybe most in those crazy moments. I want them to know they are loved for their successes AND their flaws. That I love that they are human, just like me. That it is the imperfections that make me love them even more and those imperfections make them who they are.
I have come miles in this process of leaving perfection behind. I don’t miss any of it…not one bit of it. Some of this new thinking has even passed into how I treat myself. So… when you see me in the produce section at the grocery store wearing no make-up and having a bad hair day, just know…”There’s Melissa, practicing imperfection!” It has been very freeing. It has helped love grow in a place that was too tight, too restrictive, too hard to grow love before. Now when my children act up in public, at home, in church, at school…I can truly say and feel that they are just kids being kids. I will do my best to correct them lovingly. I look back at myself in the “time before children” and I see a different person. A person with more time, fewer wrinkles, maybe someone who looked a lot more perfect to the world. But today, I am so proud of the ways my children have changed me. I am forever grateful to them for teaching me the beauty in imperfection. For teaching me just how lovable we are ALL the time, especially in the mistakes we make and the ways those mistakes help us to grow.