My son is now 17 months old. When people meet him, they usually comment how much he looks like myself or my husband. Sometimes they note that he is actually quite a blend of the two of us. Whatever they observe, they know he belongs to us.
Over the last year and a half, different personality traits have emerged that remind my husband and I of each other. A look. A silly action. But, mostly we have taken note that he is a particular kid. He is particular about where things go. He is particular about what foods he eats (and how he eats them). He is particular about who helps him with which tasks.
We first noticed this part of his personality when we introduced Rice Chex into his diet at about 7 months old. We would put a few of these waffled square pieces of cereal on his high chair tray, and he would only eat the perfect ones. Broken – rejected. Malformed – rejected. Malformed on one side – accepted, once I flipped it over and it looked perfect again.
While the original response in me when he was being picky was what a waste of food, over time I’ve been reflecting on the bigger story behind the perfectionism that my husband and I seem to have passed along to our son.
In truth, both Tim and I are quite particular people in our own right. And in these first months of life, I’m sure our son had noticed how we do things. How much of his routines and preferences have been learned by watching me? How much has been passed along in the DNA? How much does he come by in his own right?
Now, being particular has its benefits — he enjoys putting things in the garbage can when asked, and he puts away his toys when prompted. But, the night when he cried for 40 minutes before I figured out that he might be mad that I changed his crib sheet earlier that day. That night I wondered if we are in for years of helping him work through anxiety when things don’t go his way. I couldn’t help but think about those broken, rejected Chex. You are going to have to learn to welcome brokenness into your life, darling. It’s unavoidable.
But, I also wonder about all the blessings of which he is the beneficiary. The generations of safety and security that came before him, that will help his life to be safe and secure. And then I couldn’t help but wonder how much the generations of struggle or trauma affect so many other kids in our country. What can I do to support the kids in that situation?
There have been studies conducted about the generational impact of Post-Traumatic Stress. There is increasing discussion about the impact of poverty and oppression over the generations. As much as I long for my child to be safe, I long for innocent children who inherited this generational stress to also be safe, and even thrive. I know these kids are in my very neighbourhood, and I pray for them when I see them. As I pray, I wait for opportunities to be part of their lives.
Biological parenthood has helped me reflect that there is a lot in my boy’s life that I will teach him, and I already know there are things that are part of who he is deep down. Yet, even with these observations, my firm conviction, as a Christian, is that we all have the capacity to grow, learn and become more deeply rooted in our identity as Children of God. Reflecting the DNA that comes from our loving, gracious and generous Heavenly Father.
Lately this growth in my own life looks like personal reflection on how God is loving me in the midst of messiness, loving me for the sake of more peace and love in my life. He does love me the way that I am, but he also loves me too much to leave me here. I was struck by a comment my spiritual director said to me the other day, as I wrestled with the reappearance of my same old struggles, and deep disappointment that I couldn’t do better. She suggested, “What if God wants to love you even in the midst of this mess. He knows you’re human.”
So, even as I long to help my son overcome the anxiety he faces when things aren’t the way he wants or expects them to be; and even while I long to help other children break cycles of generational trauma; I am given deep comfort in the fact that I don’t do this alone. I don’t fix myself alone. We live in community, and more importantly it is deep within God’s character to desire that we leave brokenness and hurt and anxiety behind. And even more foundational to God’s character is the love that reaches out to us, even when we choose to cling to our brokenness, hurt and anxiety. The love that holds us tight, like a crying toddler, and waits for the calm return, so He can whisper, “I love you, but there is a better way.”
I am still a rookie parent, and I don’t claim to know much about all kids — only a bit about this one tiny human in my care. I am grateful that God is using a young child’s life to continue to purify my desires, to refine the things I cling to like a screaming, over-tired toddler. I am grateful that this God, whom I am increasingly getting to know, is a God who loves to see change for the better in everyone’s lives.