Isaiah 55:8-9 reminds us that the Lord’s ways are higher than ours. His plans are better than whatever we could come up with. His timing is more perfect than what we could plan on our own. I’m not talking about a little bit better. I’m talking about beyond-all-we-could-ask-or-imagine more excellent. In fact, verse 9 states the truth this way, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” As my children grow older, I am reminded more and more often that I’m going to have to trust the Lord instead of my own best plans for parenting. In fact, I’m struggling to remember the last time I got to do things my way…
From the very start, parenting is a crash course in out-of-control. Five new babies have come into my circle of family and friends in the last nine months, with two more due dates on the calendar. The last of those babies is expected on Labor Day of all days. God has a serious sense of humor! However, reality says that he or she is extremely unlikely to be born on that pun-worthy day. So far I haven’t seen a single birth-plan go exactly as scheduled, without a major interruption, or an unexpected intervention. My husband tells me that the most terrifying moments in childbirth for him were watching the love of his life in excruciating pain while there was absolutely nothing he could do to fix it. From my perspective, being in labor and realizing that your body is operating entirely separately from your will is a surrealistic experience in forced surrender—and terrifying. In either case, bringing a child into the world is a great example of how we can create a plan and not have our expectations realized at all.
Lessons in releasing our own plans continue as we parent adult children, when their will usurps ours in how things will be done. Once in a while, our students express appreciation for our investment in them but more often than not, they are looking for a way out from under our watchful eye. How many of us could tell stories of being intrinsically involved in our children’s sports experiences—until the day that we were told we didn’t need to come to every event or even, “You embarrass me”? I have a friend who spent the better part of her high school daughter’s track meet just this week hiding from view. While the cool post-college sister was welcomed to cheer on her younger sibling, mom was relegated to an incognito spot behind a pole.
It’s important to remember that how our students receive us is not entirely about us. Their ability to engage with our desire to support and encourage them is impacted by experiences outside of our control! I have been told by one of my own kids that I am both their very best supporter and the worst of their emotional triggers. I get it. When we face deep and messy issues alongside our children—wrestling the challenges of mental illness or addiction, disability, trauma, major missteps, or family tragedy—even if we are our kids’ best advocates, it is common for them to wrap us up in the emotional complexity of their own hurdles. Despite our best efforts, intentions, or even sacrifices, we will be caught between their healthy push for independence and their experience of challenging emotions. Shame, guilt, or the heavy sense of having disappointed us affect their perception of our intentions and their ability to engage well.
A dear friend of mine frequently says to me: “The truth is, I cannot parent my children the way I want to—not because I am incapable, but because they won’t allow me to. Each one is receptive to different things so my parenting of each one has to adjust, too.” Adjusting to each child’s receptivity can also complicate our relationships with other children who wrestle to understand why our parenting doesn’t seem “fair” across siblings. Goodness, it gets complicated.
So, what is the lesson for us as parents of young adults? Well, quite honestly, we don’t get to have it our way and the older they get, the more that becomes true. The good news is the bonus prize: it is a lot easier when we don’t have to have it our way.
I recall when I finally did become a parent, that my own mother was surprisingly respectful of my parenting desires. We didn’t get to be together often, since she was eight hundred miles away when the kids were small, so when we were at her home, we stayed for a full week. She was careful to ask what the nap schedule was, how bedtime routines went, what foods she should have in the house, and how she could best support “normal” for the kids. I appreciated that at the time. I appreciate it even more when I look back and think, surely she had ideas on what SHE wanted to do with the kids, how SHE would have coached me to do things differently based on her parenting experience, and what would have met HER needs as we invaded her home. Instead, she parented me—her adult daughter—and grand-parented my children the way we were most receptive to. As appreciative as I am of the grace she demonstrated, I do wonder if I missed out by not asking more often:” Mom, what would you do…?”
I wonder if God thinks the same thing about me. Does He parent me based on my receptivity to His support and encouragement? How much am I missing in what He has to give me by misinterpreting my shame and guilt for His judgment? What would happen in my own parenting if I stopped more often to ask, “God, what would you have me do…?”
If we don’t get to have it our way, can we be better parents (and eventually grandparents) if we choose to have it God’s way in the first place? That doesn’t mean we don’t lay plans. My mom would put our visits on the calendar, get the groceries in, make the beds, have some options for activities planned, and even some surprises in store. But by being prepared and NOT rigid in her plan, we had far more fun together.
We now have kids that span the ages from college student to new parent. As I experience the rules and roles changing, I’m trying to follow my mom’s lead. RESPECT their adult choices. PLAN but let them lead. Allow myself to be the one NOT IN CONTROL. ASK the Lord for HIS plan for my role to be clear. As I get better at that, I’m amazed to say that even though I clearly see the triggers still firing, I’m also seeing the respect reflected. “Mom what do you think?” “Mom, could you help me with this?” “Mom, I love spending time together.”
NOT MY WAY is far better than I would have done on my own. Isaiah 55 promises God has a good plan. When we can follow His parental lead, the result will be better than our way, even when we relinquish control.