The Power Of Acceptance - Part 1

The first in a series of blogs about the importance of accepting our children for who they are.

When my daughter was born, she shattered the myths that I had held dear prior to pregnancy.  I dreamed of perfect breast feeding, idyllic middle of the night feedings, cuddling and gazing into each other’s eyes with a love born of her mere existence.

I was in for a rude awakening.  She was fussy.  She was hungry all the time.  When my breasts were wrung out like wet dishrags and limp from use, she still wanted more.  I could swear that she never slept. An idea belied by the fact that I have numerous photos of her as an infant with her eyes closed. (I still maintain that she was blinking, not sleeping.)

I was in constant pain from the C-section I’d had.  I couldn’t get out of the apartment because I wasn’t allowed to climb stairs and we were in a walk-up.  I remember when I was feeding her, her onesies would be soaked with my tears.

Every time she nursed she pooped.  And not just any poop.  It squirted out of her diaper and up her back and into what little hair she had.  Every. Time. It got all over me.  Every feeding required full baths for the two of us.  Her pretty little clothes were all stained with yellow poo.

So.  It wasn’t idyllic.  Not by a long shot.  I had some postpartum depression as well that whispered in my ear, “Now look what you’ve done.  You will be in this hell-hole for ever.  She will always be like this: squirting poo from her poo hole, biting your boobs, never satisfied.”  And, because depression lies, I believed that.

All my life, as far back as I could remember, I’d wanted a baby.  Or two.  Or ten.  I KNEW I’d be a great mother.  I KNEW I’d be calm and loving.  And once my daughter was born I was filled with anxiety 24/7.  I was anything but calm.  

I did love her though.  Somehow, in spite of my misery, way down deep, I knew that I loved her. Or, at least, I would love her eventually. I just hadn’t experienced this particular definition of love before.  Loving in spite of someone not fitting into my view of the world.  Loving in spite of someone being different from what I’d imagined or wanted them to be.  And because I knew, somewhere deep inside me, that love was there somewhere, I was somehow able to talk back to the lying depression and at least whisper, “Shut up.”  Sometimes I was able to include,  “It will be fine,” even when I didn’t believe it in the least.

What I want to talk about in this first blog about acceptance is how I got from that initial experience to pure acceptance of who my daughter was then, and who she was in-between then and now.

Acceptance of both of my children has been, and remains, a journey.  Like any journey there are many obstacles along the path.  Most of these obstacles take the form of pre-conceptions, or assumptions, that I’ve erroneously made.  So the first one that I had to overcome was to let go of my fantasy baby. You know, the one that was going to nurse every two to four hours.  The one who would sleep in between feedings.  The one who would smile and coo and wave their little fingers and toes in the air whenever they saw me instead of just looking at my boobs and crying.  The one whose poop would be neatly contained within the diaper and who I could dress in cute, pristine little baby clothes.  You know the one.  Some of you may have even been blessed with that experience.  I wasn’t.

I remember a friend offering to babysit one night after my daughter was born so that my husband and I could go out to a local restaurant.  As we sat across the table from each other, with barely enough energy to speak, I managed to say, “I can’t wait until we can get back to normal.”  He looked at me and said, “I think we’ve left that behind.  This is normal now.”

It was a revelation.  There was no “normal” that we were going to get back to.  There was this.  There was now.  There was this tiny being who was going to depend on us for so many things: sustenance, hygiene, safety and most of all love.  

Our children come into the world deserving what I believe to be every child’s birthright: the free, unconditional love and acceptance of the people who are responsible for them.  They do not come into the world to serve our needs.  They come into the world so we can serve their needs; so that we can develop them into the best human beings they can be — human beings who can then eventually turn around and make the world around them a better place.

So, back to my daughter: obviously over time she stopped squirting poo out of her diaper, she fell into a regular routine and slept through the night, she started smiling and wiggling her fingers and toes in the air when she looked at us.  And I won’t deny that these things helped my acceptance of her.  But during the course of her life, and during the course of the lives of all of our children, our fantasies about who we think they will be, of who we think they “should” be and of who we “want” them to be will continue to come up. And each time it happens, it requires another mental adjustment towards radical acceptance.

In order to fully accept our children for who they are, we need to ask ourselves some hard questions.  And we need to ask them every time our children don’t fit the picture of what we think they should be.  We need to stop and ask ourselves: what is my fantasy? Why do I need my child to fit into a pre-conceived image that I have of them?  Is it because I worry that I’ll be judged by other people or other parents?  Is it because I worry that others will think less of me if my child isn’t athletic; isn’t strong in a particular subject in school; isn’t heteronormative?  Am I concerned that others will see me as a “bad parent” if my child prefers to read instead of playing hockey like their dad? Do I believe that I have “failed” if my child gets B’s or C’s in school instead of A’s?  Am I a bad parent if my child doesn’t want to go to college? What about if my child doesn’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth?  What does it mean about me if they’re lesbian, gay, transgender?

You see, when we fail to accept our children for who they are, it often boils down to “What about me?”  So much of our lack of acceptance of them comes from an egocentric concern about being seen as a failure ourselves.  If we can’t create the “perfect” child (whatever that is) then we haven’t “done our job.”  

And the truth is exactly the opposite.  If we don’t accept our children for who they are then we really have failed.  And not just failed as parents of our children.  No, we have also failed our society.  When we accept our children for who they are, it frees them to more easily go on to accept others as well.  And ultimately, the ability to accept other people is the only thing that will eventually reduce the violence that we’re seeing in the world today.

So the first step is to ask yourself the hard questions about what it means to have a child who is different from the one you thought you would have.  This is where the hard work begins.  In the next blog we’ll take a look at what happens after you’ve asked the questions.