Fifteen years ago, I cut out a quote from a parenting magazine. It’s purposely taped to the inside of my kitchen cabinet, so I see it every morning when I reach for the cereal. It reads, “Accept a child for who he is and watch him blossom.” I found it 15 years ago in a Christian parenting magazine and on the morning I found it, it was like receiving manna from heaven.
I had a 24/7 wild ride of a 3-year-old little boy at the time, and I was in the midst of trying to tame him into being like everyone else’s mellow child in the neighborhood play group. I loved this little boy beyond words, but he was always at the root of any wrestling or physical tussle with other kids. He loved to hug his friends and during the 90 minutes of social interaction that I looked forward to every week, I only spent three minutes, tops, in talking to other moms.
My days back then were solitary days, spent watching Teletubbies and chatting away in three-word-sentences to a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old. I craved the company of a friend, and I looked forward to my Wednesday morning gathering. But my son was a physical boy, and he would climb, jump, crawl, and run. He couldn’t sit still. There wasn’t a morning that I didn’t leave the play group on the verge of tears because my child couldn’t sit and play without my constant supervision.
I wanted to be able to talk to others without having to run interference between my son and the other kids or run to his rescue because he had fallen. Again. I remember one morning, his constant energy was becoming more than I could take. I drove home, crying. My sweet boy said, “Why are you sad, Mama? Why are you crying?”
“Yes, I am sad, honey, it’s OK. I love you.” But the tears poured. Why couldn’t he be like the other kids?
When we got home that day, I carried him out of his car seat; kissing him, my tears falling on top of his warm, wonderful head. “I love you, baby,” I told him, “but mama needs you to be good.”
“I be good, mama, I be good boy!” His earnestness broke my heart. He went quietly down for a late morning nap, and I brought the mail in. As I put my feet up, I thought about how if I could only get this boy to be like the other kids who behaved, I’d be happier.
Later that afternoon, I paged through the parenting magazine that had arrived. My heart stopped when I read the tagline on an article regarding toddlers, underneath the tagline was the quote I’ve saved for the past 15 years. I cried as I read the words over and over, “Accept a child for who he is and watch him blossom.”
I had it all wrong. I needed to accept him, not make him into something he wasn’t. He was a joyful, high energy child, and I needed to let him feel happy about being himself. I cut out the quote and we quit the play group. Instead of me trying to fit him into a mold that he didn’t come from, we instead began spending our Wednesday mornings at the park, running free, laughing loud, and climbing to his heart’s content.
That morning, those words changed my world.
Today, this child of the rambunctious need to move and do, is a teen who will leave for college in a few months. I get melancholy when I think of the foolish years I wasted trying to be like the other moms and have him be like the other kids. My boy is still an intense presence, pursuing what he’s interested in with an energy and a zeal that’s contagious.
He loves me, and tells me often. “You’re a great mom, I love you,” are words that he’s not shy to speak. I feel his confidence and his happiness in being who he is. He genuinely likes himself. How could I ever have thought I had to tame this? He was and is, focused and tireless, hindsight has shown me that. He hasn’t changed much from the days when we attended play group together, despite my sad early efforts at trying to change him.
If I could have my days back with this wonderful boy, it would be to do it this way: let HIM be. I would stop comparing myself, and him, to others. I would forget what the other moms nodded and whispered about. I would have been happy being alone with him, surrendering myself to his sticky hugs and intentional kisses. I would have smiled, not cried, during the days of play groups, and I would have beamed at my child and said, “Isn’t it wonderful? How excited and happy he is? I am so lucky.”
I am forever grateful for those who share their words honestly, because that magazine article was read by just the mom and child who needed it at that moment. Words are powerful because you don’t know who is going to read them. The author of that article with the quote I’ve saved for over 15 years has no idea she changed our lives that day. And she doesn’t have to know, because what matters, is that her words fell on the right ears.