Whether to give birth. Where to give birth. How to give birth. When to cut the umbilical cord. When to bathe. Whether to adopt. Whether to surrogate. How to feed. Where to feed. What, if anything, to use to catch their poop and pee. How to treat teething pain. When to seek medical advice. What kind of medical advice to seek. Where to sleep. How to carry. When to start school. Whether to ever start school. The importance to place on family togetherness at dinnertime. How much media exposure. At what age. When to talk about sex. How to talk about sex. What to feed. Where to feed. When to start extracurriculars. What extracurriculars. To allow quitting or not. How to handle language. Whether to give an allowance. How much. What is required in return for an allowance. Whether to offer wine at dinner. At what age. How to talk about legal drug use. How to talk about illegal drug use. Early or late or no curfew. How much to track internet use. When to give a cell phone. And on and on ad infinitum. There are so many decisions involved in parenting, some of which we have the honor and privilege of making, some of which are made for us through circumstances beyond our control. By the end of a childhood, each family will have made a kaleidoscope of decisions, and no two will make the same pattern or design. Focusing exclusively on those kaleidoscopes though, as beautiful as they each may be, could lead us to miss the forest for the trees. The beautiful kaleidoscopes are not the bigger picture.
“Does he have milk?” H asks from the backseat.
We are parked in front of a friend’s house, and I have just taken the key out of the ignition. H is in his car seat, swinging his legs and looking thoughtfully out the window.
“What kind of milk are you thinking about?” I ask.
“Well, he used to, when he was little little, but not any more.”
“Well, sometimes some mamas can’t make as much milk as their babies need. They work really hard at it, but it doesn’t end up working out. I think that’s what happened with our friend.”
We sit in silence for a moment.
“I’m glad it worked out for us,” I tell him.
“Well, I like giving you milk. And I think you like having milk.”
“Yeah,” he nods.
“It’s nice to have it be part of our relationship.”
“Yeah,” he says, still swinging his legs, still contemplative. I wonder what he is watching so intently out the window. Maybe gazing off into the distance is a way of gazing inward.
I get out of the car and walk around to get him out. We go inside to meet our friends.
As we are playing, I notice how my friend and her child interact with each other. There is no shortage of love between them. They are playful, they are kind to each other, they are connected. They negotiate boundaries and other relational things. The child pushes, the mother gives some and pulls some. Some things about their journey have been different from mine and H’s, like the amount of time they breastfed, but other things have been similar, like the priority we each place on being outdoors. In the end though, it’s not even the similarities in some of our choices that so powerfully connects us as parents. It’s the unconditional love we both have for our children, love from which springs a deep commitment to parenting respectfully and honoring that our children are whole, complete people and have been since birth. We’ve each made different choices, some consciously and some narrowed down through circumstance, but they all spring from this place of unconditional love. That’s the bigger picture behind the beautiful kaleidoscopes we each have a hand in making with our children. Unconditional love. It is so deeply connecting. Me to him, me to her through her unconditional love for her son, me to you and you and you through the unconditional love you each have for those in your lives. That’s the forest, and it’s beautiful, too.