1 : form, create; especially : to give a particular form or shape to
3 : to adapt in shape so as to fit neatly and closely
A friend was sharing with me last night that she believes the key to parenting is really knowing who your children are. She's managed to raise four children to adulthood and I've read her children write about how much they still enjoy each other, which is one thing I hope my own girls will experience. So I listened up as she shared. According to her experience, parenting is not about getting your children to do what you want them to do or making them into who you want them to be, but understanding who they are and helping them become more of who they are meant to be. As I was pondering this today, I realized that I not only want to know and understand my daughters, but I want to be shaped by knowing them.
I don't want this parenting thing to be a one-way street. It's not like they're the clay and I'm the mold. Goodness knows, I'm not out to create three mini-me's. One of me is quite enough, thank you very much. Instead, I'd prefer to think of all of us as malleable and shaped by and to each other. Not in a way that makes us "fit neatly," but in a way that leaves us all better people for having lived life together as a family.
I've already learned a great deal from each of my daughters. A has a quiet confidence (something I long for) that is oddly juxtaposed with moments of insecurity (this I know all about). She has known from a very young age what she wants - mainly, to dance. She started asking to take dance lessons when she was three. Given her gene pool, I thought there was no way this child was a dancer. (If you've ever witnessed J or I attempt to dance, you'll understand my initial mindset.) So I signed her up for a six week session, thinking that would take care of that. She wanted more. I delayed. She wanted to dance. I signed her up for a week of dance camp at age five, reasoning that if she still wanted to dance after doing it every day for a full week, then we could commit to school lessons. Needless to say, she had the requisite desire to merit after school lessons. This fall, she'll be taking 9-10 hours of dance weekly. A has shaped me to be a mom who listens to what my daughters say they want. If I had ignored her pleas for dance, I would have squashed a crucial part of who A is and that would have been tragic.
B has shaped me to be a mom who never knows what's coming. I learned very early on that if it worked with A, it would not work with B. When she was two, B simply thought I was stupid. If she asked for a cookie and I said no, she would ask again, slower and louder. I learned to say, "I know you want a cookie, but you can't have one right now." She gradually learned that I wasn't hard of hearing, I just didn't cave in to her every whim. And I learned to clearly articulate what was going on. B is still a child who wants to know why. Some may disagree, but I've found I parent her best when I do take time to answer her questions. She doesn't have a hard heart, but she has a curious one and she is far more likely to accept correction when she understands what she has done wrong. This isn't always easy for me. There are certainly times when I wish B - or any of my children - would simply do what I'm asking without requiring explanation. But I need to be shaped in this. I need to do a better job of articulating what I am thinking and feeling instead of assuming that my family and friends can read my mind.
And K? K has shaped me into a mom who listens, sometimes when I don't want to. Sometimes I just want quiet and K wants to tell a story. So I listen more than I otherwise would. K has also taught me how differently we are all gifted. Even at age 6 K is great with people. She is gentle, nurturing and sensitive. If I have a headache, she rubs my forehead with her tiny little hands and is solicitous in bringing me a drink or whatever else I may need. And she picks up on body language far better than her 10 year old sister. Seeing these gifts appear so effortlessly in K has made me value these traits more and I've worked harder to cultivate them in myself, since many of them do not come naturally to me.
I hope when my daughters are adults, they will get glimpses of how they have influenced and shaped me. Because I'm certainly a different person for having been their mother.