My children are nothing like what I expected.
My dad is on record saying that, when I was a teenager, he didn’t know how I was possibly going to survive adulthood. I hid away in my room all day, painting and reading. Neither are particularly marketable skills. He had nightmares based on my lack of future financial earning power. Maybe he thought I was going to live with him forever, paying zero bills, sitting in my childhood bedroom reading Jane Austen novels.
I did manage to mature into adulthood — more or less — and now that I’m a father, my children behave the same way I once did. Our tween daughter nests like a bird in her attic room dreaming of becoming Emily Dickinson, hand-crafting dolls and playing ukulele. The boys, meanwhile, spend their days hard at work using their pocket knives to carve random pieces of wood into an extensive arsenal of weaponry — spears, slingshots, swords — I’m sure everything will be fine. The activities of childhood are supremely impractical, and for that reason they’re all the more delightful.
The fact is, all six of our children are different than I ever would have imagined. They’re a constant surprise. Other parents I know say the same of their children. It’s amusing to think of all our imaginative, dreamy kids growing up into mothers and fathers, responsible employees, homeowners who take out the trash.
Maybe that’s their future, maybe it isn’t. Kids are little miracles, striking out toward unknown destinations. Who knows what kind of adults they’re going to become? Maybe they’ll mow the grass every weekend and own life insurance, or maybe they’ll disappear into a monastery or teach English in a foreign country. It’s the kind of question that keeps a parent awake at night.
We have one of two options. We can try to reign them in, talk some sense into them, force them down a path toward a narrowly defined future. Or, we can encourage them and go along for the ride. For me, this latter option means learning about beekeeping, professional motorcycle racing, raising chickens and practicing my ultimate frisbee skills. For one mother I know, it meant getting a tattoo and skydiving. With kids, the sky is limit, I guess.
As parents, it’s our job to simply love them and trust that, whatever their interests, whatever direction their life seems to be going, they don’t have to fit into a preconceived plan. We offer guidance and wisdom, sure, but they deserve the freedom to be themselves. In doing so, we benefit by learning a thing or two ourselves. The more I manage to see the world through their eyes, the richer my own existence becomes.
There’s a lesson here for the way that God loves us, how He delights in us. My parenting improves when motivated by love. It becomes a joy to watch my children grow into their own unique personalities. In the same way, God relates to us through love. He takes great joy in walking through life with us and cannot wait to see what what we’ll do next.
Father Rennier is pastor of Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in St. Louis. A former Anglican priest, he was ordained in 2016 under a pastoral provision for the reception of Anglicans and Episcopalians into full communion with the Catholic Church. He and his wife, Amber, have six children.