I’m a sucker for a good inspirational story. I always love the underdog. I get chills when I watch a movie about someone who goes after the impossible and makes it reality. My parents and I were recently discussing just such a movie, and my mom pointed out a central theme of the story: the lead character’s mom always believed in him, and it gave him the courage to succeed against all odds.
This theme reminded me of one of my biggest parenting conundrums: is there a balance between encouraging your kids to dream big dreams and teaching them about the limitations of reality?
Remembering My Own “Impossible” Dreams
Even as a young child, I was a big dreamer. I had perhaps the longest list ever of “when I grow up, I want to be…” That list included everything from an astronaut, to a teacher, to a doctor. It never occurred to me that struggling in math and not being great in science could pose a problem for a career in medicine or space. I didn’t worry about the fact that medical school is long and expensive or even that fewer and fewer people were being sent into space, making that career extremely competitive. None of that mattered – I wanted to do something I was passionate about. As I grew, I recognized that while my interests were many, my greatest passion in terms of work was to help people.
Somewhere between ten and twelve, before my family had even considered becoming missionaries, I read about someone who ended up on the mission field. I remember thinking, “Hmm. I think I’d like to be a missionary someday.” Looking back now, I might even say that I felt a calling at that young age, a stirring beyond just my emotions. At the time, I had never been outside the States, had no idea what missionary life was really like, and had no personal experience or family history in foreign ministry.
And yet…here I am, 20-something years later, with years under my belt of being a missionary kid, then a single missionary, and now a missionary serving with my husband and two kids.
And now I’m the mama.
This childhood memory causes me to wonder now – how will I respond if my daughter comes to me at ten years old and says, “Mama, I want to be a missionary”? Will I believe that God could have spoken about such a big thing to such a small girl? Will I begin to give her missionary books to read and tell her stories about others who have gone before us in this path? Will I tell her that I believe she heard from the Lord? Or will I smile and nod, all the while thinking, “Maybe, maybe not,” but she’s too young for such a conviction?
What if she wants to be an artist but shows no artistic ability whatsoever (a trait she could have easily inherited from me!)? What if she dreams about being a prosecutor but is shy and inhibited? What if she wants to be an engineer and struggles like I did through math and science? Will I be her biggest cheerleader? Will I always be that voice in her head, saying, “You can do it!”? Or, will I tell her, “Honey, that may not be for you”? Will I gently, lovingly try to steer her in what seems a more practical direction? And more importantly, I ask myself, should I?
The Debate – Dreams or Reality? Is it one or the other?
That “should I” is the conundrum. It’s the question I ask myself and my husband frequently…but have struggled to answer to my satisfaction. I love my kids. Obviously, I want them to be happy, and I hope that they are able to pursue all their dreams. I’m a dreamer myself, so I desperately want to be that mom who believes against all odds and never, ever tells my kid, “You can’t,” no matter how impossible it looks to me.
But, is that what’s best for them? I’ve wondered and wondered whether the responsible, loving thing to do is to steer them toward reality. In some ways, their lives might be easier if I do that. They might not have to work so hard to accomplish their goals if their goals are “realistic” and “achievable” at first sight. They might not agonize over high school and college classes that just don’t make sense, might not feel that they have to fight tooth and nail for every job opportunity, might not have to spend so much time and money to pursue the future. And this is the big one for me as a mom – maybe they won’t feel the pain of failure if they pursue something that comes naturally to them.
But then I realize – God lets His kids fail. And He never stops being our greatest cheerleader, our biggest support. He doesn’t lie and tell us, “It’ll all be peachy.” He’s straightforward that we will have struggles in life – but He also tells us not to be afraid, because He will be with us. And that right there is a model for me in this area of parenting.
Believing in our Kids and Being Present
When we tell our kids, “You can do it,” we’re instilling in them the core belief, not just that they are capable, but that we believe in them. Maybe that belief is just as important to their healthy development as succeeding in their pursuits – maybe it’s more important. If my kids know that Mama believes they can reach their dreams and that I’m always there for them, maybe it will give them that extra courage to get back up the hundredth time they fall, to keep trying when it seems insurmountably difficult, to have hope when hope seems bleak.
I’m a realist – I know they may not be able to have all they want – after all, haven’t I myself learned that sometimes God’s plans are different, but far better than my own small ideas? But, when I stand behind them and cheer them on, I pray it will teach them endurance, patience, work ethic, and courage.
But far more importantly than all of those things, our kids may find it more natural to believe that God is for them, not against them, if they see that attitude modeled in their parents. The beliefs we develop as children stick with us throughout our lives, bless and torment us at times we least expect them. I can’t guarantee that my precious babies will come to know the Lord, but I recognize that my believing in them against all odds may lay the foundation for a faith that God Himself is for them, just like He says He is.
And in Conclusion
And so, for me, the conundrum is a conundrum no more. I can’t wait to hear all about my babies’ dreams, to tell them, “You can do it! I’ll be here for you!” I’m excited to watch them grow and develop their pursuits, and I truly hope they are able to accomplish them (as long as it’s what God knows is best for them).
I’ll pray for patience and strength to stick with them when it’s hard, wisdom to know how to help and guide them, and compassion to pick them up when they fall. I hope that no matter what they pursue and eventually do in their lives, they will look back and remember that Mama always, always believed in them and was there for them.
And from that, I hope that my kids will come to an early recognition that our God is also for them and that they invite Him to be their biggest support, that ever present voice behind them, saying, “I’m here for you.”
Question for you…
So, now, the rubber meets the road. I ask you, Friend and Reader, what practical ways can we champion our kids forward in their dreams, while helping them deal with reality – the hardships, the struggles? Even from the earliest age, what steps can we take to help our children dream and prepare to go after those dreams? I’m a do-er, so I’d love your input on what we can DO!!