When our oldest son, now 14, was a preschooler, my friend Brigid told me about an experience she had with her own preschooler after Mass one Sunday. It was shortly before Christmas and gifts for needy children were arranged under a tree near the front of church. While Brigid and her husband were chatting with some friends and the priest, her son grabbed a present, brought it back to the group, and asked if he could open it.
“I let the priest handle that one,” I remember Brigid telling me. “I wanted to see how he would explain to a four-year-old that the presents were for other children.”
At the time, I remember being amazed that Brigid decided to give the situation to the priest. I knew that if Jacob had done something similar, I would have been mortified and would have quickly taken matters into my own hands.
But a decade more into parenting, Brigid’s decision to let someone else lead the lesson sticks with me.
Parenting seems to be a lifelong dance of knowing when to take control and when to let it go. On one hand, parents are co-creators with God; our children are entrusted to us to form and shape; to teach, discipline and bless. On the other hand, our children do not really belong to us at all. Ultimately, they are God’s children, given a free will and a life all their own. Yes, we parents may be the primary teachers, but we are not the only ones. And while we may take some satisfaction when our children do well, and some blame when they do not, we cannot be so full of our own importance to think that every success and failure of our children is a direct reflection on us.
Having a mix of biological, adopted and foster children has caused me to bump into the control issue earlier perhaps than some parents.
There are close to four years of our foster daughter’s life that I cannot account for. She is almost eight, and social services has sent her to live with us on three separate occasions over the course of her life. It’s likely this third placement with us will end in adoption. While I know a bit of what her life was like, and how she suffered, when she wasn’t living with us, I don’t know the whole story. Indeed, Teenasia herself doesn’t know the whole story because for much of the time she wasn’t with us, she was so young.
Learning to love T as a daughter has tested me as a parent. Especially early on when she came back the third time, I felt that I was looking at her without recognizing her. I saw little of myself or Bill reflected back at me. Yet, I knew without a doubt, that I was called to love her; called to be her mom.
What Teenasia taught me—and is still teaching me—is that parenting with faith requires a mental relinquishing of control. It’s a daily rhythm of do what I can, and give her to God. Love her as best I am able, and ask God to deepen my love. Teenasia’s arrival this third time was accompanied by a huge question to me, directly from God— so obvious it may as well be written in block letters in the sky above my home. The question is: Do you trust Me?
It’s not a one-time question, and it’s not a question just for me. I believe it’s a question that God asks each parent on a daily basis. And it’s can’t be answered with a yes or no. It must be answered with our being. For when I wake up in the night, worrying about Teenasia, I’m not trusting God— I’m putting it on myself. When I yell in frustration instead of grabbing a teachable moment; or think that maybe I won’t be able to have the same expectations for Teenasia that I have for my other kids, I am not trusting God. I am putting myself at the center of center of the circle and saying that Teenasia’s success is dependent on Bill and me.
Mother Teresa once said, “God has not called me to be successful. He has called me to be faithful.” In that statement is a challenge to all parents. No matter what we do, no matter how hard we try, the outcome is ultimately not ours to control. This is not to say that we should give up efforts with a shrug of, “it’s in God’s hands.” On the contrary, Mother Teresa herself demonstrated that being faithful involves a tremendous amount of work and action. But somehow, Mother Teresa was able to separate the toil of faithfulness with the expectation of controlling the end product. Maybe, amid all the poverty and the squalor and the hurt she saw on a daily basis, she also looked up to see the writing in the sky: Do you trust Me? And, with a willingness to live up to her title of “Mother,” she answered with her being.
Yes, I trust you.