Show me a woman who is pregnant, and I will show you a woman who lives expectantly. Everything about her will soon be forever changed. Her mate, too. And the lives of any previous children born to the union. Babies change everything. But of course, they do. And parents who are paying attention expect that.
Chief amongst these expectations is the expectation that we have no idea what to expect! Yes, the child will almost certainly bear a resemblance in some combination of the mother and father. Likewise will “the apple not fall far from the tree,” meaning, surely the child will grow into adulthood reflecting a core of values, customs, habits, and lifestyles that were transmitted by the mother, the father, and the wider family.
Yet, nature is ever restlessly trying on combinations. Perhaps this baby will be taller or shorter than we would have predicted just looking at the parents. Perhaps the baby will have darker hair, despite both parents being blondes. Perhaps your baby will be the one ectomorph in a family of endomorphs. And, regardless of the faithful and loving efforts of both parents to shape and form a child’s character and worldview, it is clear that babies are simply born with particular temperaments. Born with destinies that will beckon them to turn left when the family history and ethos would have expected them to turn right.
Parents who live consciously form and shape a child, yes. But they also have sufficient humility to desire to meet the child. To become acquainted with a very separate human being who might or might not in any given moment seem familiar. At once, parents shape a child, AND expect this child’s unique identity to emerge. This emerging person might neither live up to your expectations nor live down to them; this person might become someone all together else.
For example, I have no idea why my middle son is now sworn in to the Army National Guard. Meaning, he certainly didn’t discover this calling because of my influence. That he heard his calling does have something to do with me, because, from the day my children were born, I taught them the importance of knowing yourself, the importance of listening expectantly to the voices and energies that would someday claim them for vocation. But, what he heard? Who would of thought! His father is a poet, a dreamer, an academic. He gardens. The boy is a soldier.
Am I shocked? Yes. Afraid? Only when I ponder his sudden deployment to the Korean peninsula. But not the least disappointed. He is being himself, which is all I ever wanted for him. If my child is living with authenticity and integrity, then, strictly speaking, his personhood is no longer any of my business. It’s only for me to celebrate.
To live expectantly requires having a suspicious attitude towards our decided expectations. We must be regularly ready to suspend our ‘knowings’ about what will happen, or what should. To live expectantly means learning to say and mean, “Maybe I don’t know anything about what should happen next … Maybe something good and right and beautiful could happen that would completely contradict my expectations.”
It’s like that gift you open on Christmas morning that makes you say, “Oh my! I didn’t even know I wanted this!” But it ends up being your favorite present.
On the Christian liturgical calendar, it is the season of Advent. From the Latin adventus, meaning, “to come,” or “coming.” The Christian story of Advent is woven around a man and a woman who are pregnant. Great with child. And boy oh boy are they filled with expectations of not having the slightest idea what to expect.
We don’t need to belong to any religion to hear the universal invitation. What would happen if we decided to live more expectantly? What would happen if we suspended our deep beliefs about the way things are? What would happen if we reminded ourselves we don’t know anything? Maybe we would lift our head above the fray more often. Maybe we would stop looking down in the well-worn groove we are walking, and begin to look around. To listen.
Today is a good day to ponder whether anything is changing. Could change. Ought to change. Whether it’s time to be somebody else. Somebody more authentic. More honest. Less afraid. Freer.
Yes, it’s true that parents must be willing to meet the person their child will become. But, just as important is being willing to be pregnant with ourselves, and therefore willing to meet ourselves. Again.
(Steven Kalas is an author and therapist. He writes a weekly column for the Sparks Tribune. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)