One of the most enduring images I have of the summer is that of my three year old at our favorite, local splashpad. Curled up on a bench in her bone-dry swimsuit, head in hands, it looked like I had dragged her to her worst nightmare instead of a fun morning activity with friends. From the very first moment we arrived, she decided she was most certainly not going to entertain this particular outing, and, like most three year olds, her decision was final. I did what I could to get her on board but my kind, encouraging, gently persuasive tone gradually shifted to one of irritation and annoyance. Still, she would not budge. As the other children danced joyfully in the sprinklers, she whined and cried, resolute in her decision to opt out. Embarrassed, disappointed, defeated, I couldn’t help but ask myself the question:
Why couldn’t she be like all the other kids there having fun, and just fit in?
I think we’ve all probably been there at some stage. A moment where our child appears so very obviously different. Whatever the reason may be, those situations where our babies noticeably stand out from the crowd can be hard to bear. We so want them to fit in. To be successful, and happy, and well adjusted. To have the opportunities and experiences we have dreamed for them. It’s not wrong to want the best for our children… is it?
The problem comes, I think, when we take it too far. When we shift the focus from the individual to the collective. When we get so caught up with what everyone else’s children are doing that we fail to see, really see, the one standing in front of us. When we treat their failure to ‘fit in’ as a personal one, reflecting our own insecurities, doubts, and fears of judgement and rejection. When it becomes more about us than it is about them, because maybe, more than we want to admit, we want to fit in too.
I wonder if we have forgotten somewhere along the way that ‘fitting in’ was never actually the goal in the first place. That being just the same as everyone else , was never actually part of our design.
“Before you were born, I set you apart.”
I sometimes, shamefully, need the reminder that my daughter was fearfully and wonderfully made by her master Creator. Set apart to fulfil her divine purpose and plan. At times she may march to the beat of her own drum, stand out from the crowd. Yet, nothing about her is accidental, mistaken or flawed. She is quite simply, exactly who she was created to be, whether the world appreciates her or otherwise.
So maybe we need to start implementing Psalm 139 parenting a little more. Focusing less on what our children are not doing and embracing, instead, their uniqueness and individually, quirks and all. Instilling in them confidence and self assurance, raising them to recognize and appreciate their true God-given value and worth. Reinforcing over and over again, as many times as they need to hear it: You are enough. Just the way you are.
We returned to the splash pad a few weeks later, and this time, we did it her way. Without pressure and expectations, with the freedom to be herself and the space to flourish – and flourish she did. This time I didn’t care what everyone else might have thought, because this mama spent the morning enjoying her little girl just as she is, and could not have been any prouder.
“On the night you were born,
The moon smiled with such wonder
That the stars peeked in to see you
And the night wind whispered,
“Life will never be the same.”
Because there had never been anyone like you… ever in the world.”
~On the Night you were Born, Nancy Tillman