Our local bookstore hosted a weekly toddler story time. I thought that all good mommies took their children to these kinds of things.
And I really wanted to be a good mommy.
So, off we went — me and my two-and-a-half-year-old Molly. Never mind that I had never personally witnessed Molly sit or stand still for more than two seconds at a time — at least not when it wasn’t naptime.
Yet somehow I convinced myself that the soothing voice of the storyteller would be so enchanting and captivating that she would sit with starry eyes and hands folded, lost in the fascinating, unfolding adventure.
It didn’t take long for that far-fetched fantasy to turn into a pumpkin.
While the other kids were wide-eyed and attentive, Molly was having none of it.
She spun and danced.
Fidgeted and squirmed.
Jumped and twirled.
I could feel the disapproving stares of mothers who sat nearby.
Trying to calm her was like attempting to put Jack back in the box while someone continued to turn the crank.
The whole experience ended with her running down the aisles of the bookstore with me (six months pregnant at the time) breathlessly waddling after her.
Molly is not a calm, sit-with-hands-folded kind of girl. She wasn’t at age two. She isn’t now at 16.
It took me a long time to figure out that I needed to parent real Molly. Not Make-Believe Molly. You know what I mean. I spent years trying to parent the fantasy child I thought she should be, or the child I wanted her to be. Or, even the child I thought others expected her to be.
I was guilty of the same mistake with her brother.
The results are no fairytale. It causes resentment to build — on both sides. It sends the message that we’re not just unhappy with their behavior. We’re disappointed or unsatisfied with who they are.
God made our children as He did with all their beautiful uniqueness. I’m so glad He didn’t give me the make-believe children I thought I wanted. The real children He gave me are so much more interesting, more amazing and more challenging to the rotten parts of myself.
We have to mold, guide and direct our children — their character and qualities. But I’ve been guilty of either subtly or directly trying to change the person they were created to be. I’ve parented imaginary children.
When I began to start parenting my real children, I let go of unrealistic expectations.
And I enjoyed my kids more.
When I began to start parenting my real children, I quit feeding my resentment.
And our relationship began to thrive.
When I began to start parenting my real children, I quit my continual nitpicking.
And my children’s sense of security and worth increased.
We aren’t guaranteed “happily ever afters.”
But we greatly increase our children’s contentment — and our own — when we stop living in make-believe.