November 9, 2007

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Kids are one more sign of God’s grace

Cynthia DewesBefore I had any kids, I thought I knew how to raise them. I’d done a lot of babysitting and observed the whole scene: parent/child interaction, sibling rivalry, styles of discipline, the works.

I figured, How hard can it be? But then, like every parent, I was really startled when I had kids of my own and realized that the buck stopped here. Not only did I not get to go home after a few hours with them, but I didn’t get paid for the job, either!

In addition to the constancy of the childrearing responsibility, I was surprised by the puzzle each child presented. With other people’s kids, it seemed easy to analyze why this child behaved a certain way or how to deal with that child’s needs. But with my own children, I was clueless.

For one thing, the dynamics of the family were new to me and ever-changing. Besides having a loving relationship with my husband, I now had a loving relationship with each new child as he or she came along. I soon found out that, unlike the monogamous spousal arrangement, the parent/child bond can extend to however many kids we have.

Sometimes I was guilt-ridden when another child arrived because I feared the older ones would feel neglected when I showed affection for the new baby. Sometimes, I worried that my husband would feel neglected because I was so busy with the kids.

Besides that, we had the same high expectations that parents have today. We wanted our children to be smart, healthy, polite, reverent and obedient. We also expected to have several of them because, before artificial birth control and other cultural changes occurred, having a number of babies was almost a given.

As a result, sometimes I think we were careless about valuing each baby as he or she came along. Still, we loved each baby dearly and could not imagine life without any of them.

Another surprise for me was the dramatic difference in the kids’ personalities, abilities and perceptions. Where one was cheerful and resilient, another might be more serious and worried about the implications of life events.

One loved dolls and teddy bears until after she grew up, while another loved to hang from trees wielding a wooden sword at imaginary enemies. One boy loved to take things apart, and a couple of the others liked to entertain the family with homemade skits or lip-syncs of “Guitarzan.”

There were more unusual differences in our kids since one son had a serious congenital heart defect and another son was profoundly mentally retarded. Still, after accommodating their physical needs, we could enjoy the comic genius of one and the sweetness of the other.

As the years passed, it seemed to me the trick to raising your own kids had little to do with rules of discipline or desired results. Instead, it was a combination of love, gratitude, awe and, sometimes, anguish. The range of God’s gifts displayed in these varied offspring never failed to amaze me, and I gloried in having them.

Even the pain involved in inevitable disappointments or life events over which we had no control did not erase the joy we had, and have, in our children. We are proud of them all, and proud to be the parents God chose for them. It beats babysitting every time.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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