I remember when I had that list of things my parents did that I said I would never do to my kids. Yeah, well, what goes around comes around, right?
Our children and their spouses have different parenting styles from us and each other, partly because of who they are, partly because of who their children are, and partly because of who we are. One might say the basics should be the same and I might agree to some degree, but going about the basics of feeding or nap time, e.g, can play out quite differently than I think they should. How do I react to that? Are choices they make a commentary on or rejection of how we raised or children?
Honoring our children as parents posed new challenges for me. Last year, my daughter spent a few weeks with us after the birth of her daughter. Our tolerances for her daughter’s nap time fussing were indeed different. I might think, “If she would do this, then she’d save herself aggravation.” That’s partly (mostly?) an opinion and perhaps a weakness of novice grandparenting. Watching my child experience a common frustration with her own child was hard. As a father, I found it harder to shelve my years of indisputable sagacity (*cough*) and not offer a remedy. (I failed.) Though difficult in the moment, my daughter was committed to her ways which were indeed full of love and neglected nothing for my granddaughter. I remember taking care of our granddaughter and committing to do things the way my daughter would, but not without some internal reflection and personal admonition. I needed her to know she could trust me and I dare not let my pride change this baby’s experience of parenting in an intrusive, unexpected way. That would be harmful.
When our children are visiting, sometimes (continuing with my example) our grandchild isn’t falling asleep, or won’t eat, I am tempted to think I offer an objective third-person perspective. It would be shallow to say it’s because they’re novice parents, but I see that my desire to help sometimes comes from a sense of having superior knowledge. Although I do have more experience, my son and daughter and their spouses may tell you, “Dad doesn’t know my child like I do.” The reality is there’s not always a simple answer. I may try something and it will work, once. Try it again, it doesn’t. Realizing such difficulties are often the result of a different environment or some confusion on the part of my grandchild should be enough to prevent me from thinking I could provide an easy solution; nonetheless, it’s hard to watch your children and grandchildren endure the common growing pains of being a family. My job is to avoid making it more painful, so I have to take my cues from them.
To better honor my children, I have to continue moving beyond the functional cause-and-effect logic that betrays the greater complexity of our humanness. I had draw on a beautiful truth which I had meditated and preached on a number of times before. We often say a child is an unrepeatable gift, but more than that, a child is a unique encounter from which a unique, unrepeatable relationship develops. No other person can have the relationship we have with each of our children or they have with each of theirs. These singularities are part of the mystery of being made Imago Dei, in the image of God; therefore, when we encounter another person, we encounter all the potential and actual God-likeness that is bound up in them. When we enter into relationship with them, we open ourselves up to God’s marvelous work in their lives such that we might see God in a new way, which is wonderful blessing, but one that comes with some friction. The wonder and the blessing grow even more profound when we invite others into the relationship, as will the friction. That friction is what moves us forward and remains a necessary part of a growing relationship.
As I once vowed, I will not be an interfering grandparent who doesn’t respect my children’s wishes. I, therefore, have come to respect that special and unique intimacy my children have with their children as much as I wanted my own relationship with them to be respected. Truly, to witness it is a privilege. For them to invite me into it is a humbling honor.
What do you find wonderful about the gift of relationship? How have you honored others in your family? Please let us know in the comments below. If you like what your reading, please click “like” and share.