My wife and I truly enjoyed every stage of parenting, but I had no idea what was coming—from welcoming our first-born into the world and bearing the responsibility for another totally dependent human being, to sending our last child off to college and experiencing the “empty nest.” While some parts of the journey have been tougher than others, each has really been a joyous gift from God. Some of my greatest delights in parenting have come from the ways I’ve been surprised.
Surprised by the differences in our children
I basically grew up as an only child. My sister, who was older, moved out and married before I started elementary school. So, I did not have much of a context for being a sibling and, honestly, had not given it much thought. Then, we had four children. One of the surprising things to me about having multiple children is how different our children are from each other (and us) and yet how they have traits that are woven together across generations, sometimes in an eery way.
Our oldest is a hands-on learner. If he can touch it, see it, and sense it, then he can understand it and probably take it apart and put it back together better than before. He was always that way. One time during his early elementary years, we had a repairman at the house working on our air conditioning system. We discovered our son crouched down by the repairman at the outside unit asking a hundred questions about how it worked and what each coil, knob, and valve did to make it work.
When our second came along, he was his older brother’s easy going counterpart in many ways. Taking things in stride and enduring the bossiness of his older brother, he just went with the flow. He was as stubborn as his brother, but three years younger, he thought his brother hung the moon. As long as he had enough sleep, he was pretty much good with everything.
I’ve got this down, I thought. My first two were not perfect, but they learned to respect authority and comply with the rules. When our third was born at 33 weeks and spent a few weeks in the NICU, I should have known things were going to be different. Our third son was diagnosed on the autism spectrum with Asperger's Syndrome. I had to create another category because he was not like the first two. He didn’t respond to the same discipline methods and had no context of authority on any level.
God can make each step of parenting beautiful in its own way, and we can trust him to surprise us with gifts we never anticipated.
Then, just to add another curve, we had a girl. One of my favorite ways to describe her role among her siblings is a paraphrase from “The Lord of the Rings”: We had three boys and one girl to rule them all. Feisty and driven, tough and tender, and ready to prove herself, her brothers adore her, and she basks in it.
Four children, and not one of them is the same. I don’t know why, but I wasn’t expecting that. But, it is God’s good gift to us, allowing us to love and appreciate each one for exactly who He created them to be.
An even bigger surprise
Now, they are all grown. And, I have had an even bigger surprise: I am blown away by our absolute joy in having grown children and watching them interact with each other. We are blessed to have children who get along as adults (at least for now). They genuinely both love and like each other. They accept and even laugh about their differences and their similarities.
Looking back, I’m not sure why our kids get along so well in this season. We accept the relationship they have with each other as a gift from God and hold it loosely, knowing that they are all his. Along the way, there are a few things we may have done that the Lord has used to help them get along as adults. First, we tried to model a balanced relationship, one where disagreements happen but are resolved civilly. Or, put another way, we tried to teach them to fight fair and forgive deeply. Second, we encouraged the kids to work out their differences with each other when appropriate. Rushing in to solve every disagreement did not teach them to work things out on their own. Often, I would offer to make everyone unhappy if I had to get involved. Finally, we talked honestly with them about themselves and about each other, but we never said things about them “behind their back,” and we would not tolerate if they did that either.
We have not had adult kids very long, however we are trying to encourage them to connect with each other. It looks different in various seasons and stages, but when they connect it’s special. We don’t expect them to spend time together like they did when they were young because it’s not realistic and, honestly, would probably not be healthy. Yet, we have found that because they generally get along, they seek it out with each other.
We now get to sit back and watch, knowing we have great memories of their years growing up and praying for what God has for them in the future. Mostly, we thank God that we can enjoy our children in a way I would have never dreamed while we were in the fray of it all. In Christ, we can be hopeful parents in the midst of the chaos and the crazy. God can make each step of parenting beautiful in its own way, and we can trust him to surprise us with gifts we never anticipated.