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 pay attention) expect everything to change.
Chief amongst these expectations is the expectation that we have no idea what to expect! Yes, the child will almost certainly bear 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 form and shape children, yes. But, more important if often forgotten is the task of meeting the child. To be introduced. To become acquainted with a very separate human being who might or might not in any given moment seem familiar. The higher calling of noble parents is to be curious! Curiosity makes a space for a 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 career military. Meaning, he certainly didn’t discover this calling because of the way I shaped him. 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 did he hear? Who would of thought! His father is a poet, a dreamer, an academic. The boy is a soldier.
Am I shocked? Yes. Afraid? Sometimes. 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 deep 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, this 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 surely they are 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 great 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. And again.
(You may drop Steven Kalas a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. StevenKalas is a therapist, author and Episcopal priest. He is the author of the book “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing.”)