Our instinct as parents is to hold on tight and protect them from the harsh world and tell them where to go and what choices to make because we know better than they do. But if we are to serve them we have to let go of them just a little bit at a time as they begin to master their own lives, occasionally stepping back in when they are having trouble navigating (done with most frequency between the ages of 14 and 16).
My sons are 3 and 4 1/2 and at this stage of parenting I should still be able to, as my friends can, languish in that "My Boy's Gonna Be The President" dream where the possibilities of what they will become are wide open. The natural progression of parenting seems to be that as your child grows, and as the two of you get to know the person that they are (and are becoming), that field possibilities narrows. It happens gradually as you as a parent mature gradually, (hopefully) becoming more trusting of your child's decisions and less needy of having your child be The President. Then, eventually, your child is 16 and you don't so much need him to be The President as much as you need him to remember to clean his room and bring home the car in one piece.
When you find out that your son has Autism, you have to do 20 or so years of maturing in one day. You have to let go of all the expectations that you have for him, and for what you thought the rest of your life would be like. There is no 'growing out of' the adolescent fantasies that you have carried around for years, the rose colored glasses are just ripped right off, and it is painful.
It is painful, but not necessarily a bad thing.
Learning to give up some of the things that you have always wanted and face reality can be a gift. It has been a year since we found out about Chandler's Autism, and I am at the point of having gone down the path just far enough to look back and see how far I have come. Not how far Chandler has come in his "recovery", but how far I have come as a mom and a person and a grown-up.
I was fortunate to grow up in a church that had a lot of good teaching and preparing for life stuff. One of the great perspectives I learned on parenting when I was still a teenager was the idea that our children are not really ours. They are a gift from God. That they are his and he has entrusted us with their care. The idea that he has trusted these precious little ones is both a huge responsibility and a huge relief for me, because it reframes parenting in a really balanced way.
It describes a relationship to them in which I am responsible for their upbringing, but God is responsible for their life. That I am to love them and mold their character, but God is responsible for their destiny. I am merely preparing them for the journey that they will walk with God, and He will be there with them on that journey when I fail them, or when I am long gone.
For me that is freeing because it relieves me of the panic that presses on me when I begin to feel that I am responsible for the men these boys will become and if I screw up then they are doomed. (Any one else feel like that sometimes or is it just me?)
While I thought that I was pretty good compared to most mom's at "holding my children with an open hand", Chandler's diagnosis exposed my still much too fantasy based grip on My Children. After all, if I truly believed that my children were are gift from God for me to raise to the best of my ability and then offer back to him, then why would it matter quite so much to me that my boy is so different from all the other little boys. Certainly I would worry for him, but even then, if I trust that God made Chandler just as he wanted him to be, and had charted out his own distinct journey, should I not be able to trust Him that He will take care of this little life that He loves even more than I do?
Hudson Taylor wrote:
...the rest which full identification with Christ brings. I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize this; for He, I know, is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine. It makes no matter where He places me, or how. That is rather for Him to consider than for me; for in the easiest position He must give me His grace, and in the most difficult, His grace is sufficient.
It matters little to my servant whether I send him to buy a few cash worth of things, or the most expensive articles. In either case he looks to me for the money and brings me his purchases. So, if God should place me in serious perplexity, must He not me much guidance; in positions of great difficulty, much grace; in circumstances of great pressure and trial, much strength? No fear that His resources will prove unequal to the emergency! And His resources are mine, for He is mine, and is with me and dwells in me.
I am a Christian. Years ago I stepped up to God and, in gratitude for his love and sacrifice for me, handed my life back to him. As Isaiah did after meeting God, I said, "Here am I. Send me." If I really meant it, then it should matter little where he sends me, or what hardships I face. I volunteered for service, and was given a very important assignment, to serve my wonderful family and my precious boys.
I have a very wise friend named Judy Nelson. When I was in college, and writhing in pain over men and stricken with panic and fear of the future, Judy used to say, "Ginger, it all comes down to whether or not you really believe that God is committed to your best interest". Her challenge rings in my head a lot these days.
If I really believe that he is committed to my best interest, and that he really loves my children more than I ever could, then despite the very natural instinct that I have as a mother to worry about my boys, I must know that everything is fine, because it is as God has had planned all along. And God can be trusted with my boys.
So this is where we circle back around to Letting Go of Chandler. When I look at the gorgeous faces of Webster and Chandler, the love that I feel for them is practically brain melting. The thought of them going out into the world gives me a stomach ache, but the harsh revelation of our little one's "specialness" is an early reminder that our job is to get them ready to do just that, be able to go out into the world and set off on a journey that we can't really go with them on. ("Ships are safe in the harbor, but that is not what ships are for") Webster is benefiting in that I spend much more time thinking much farther ahead for him than I would have, had we still been allowed to loiter in "President Taylor" land.
So I am trying to learn to 'let go' of Chandler even as my love for him grows. I am trying to learn to serve him rather than serving my own ego's idea of what my son should be. The better I get at it, the more I see the poetry that Chandler is.