The Character Movement

Erica's Babies

My Kids are Counting on You

By Erica Cantoni, Youth Frontiers’ Manager of Corporate and Major Gift Engagement

As near as this newbie mom can tell, parenthood is a Ph.D. course in understanding your children. Learning how to crack their codes and best nurture and teach them, and enjoying all their sweet, weird little idiosyncrasies. In the beginning, I took fierce pride in at least knowing my children better than anyone else does (save for my amazing husband). I grew these babies inside me, learned what time of day they would kick and worried when they stopped. Every single day of their lives, I have held them and studied their faces and learned which cry means hunger and which means I’m tired of being read to, lady, let’s do something else.

I recently left my four-month-old twins all day for the first time ever – for four days in a row.

The first day, I backed out of my parents’ driveway in the dark, wet morning and cried for miles because I felt like I was abandoning them. Just as I had felt leaving them in the NICU each night when they were born prematurely and in need of extra care. Then and now, I was so afraid they would feel alone or forgotten.

The second, third and fourth days I cried, only slightly ashamed because they were so resilient and happy with my parents and so obviously and surprisingly okay without me. It was incredibly unmooring to suddenly not be the person who knew everything about my kids. But I’m realizing how important it is for me to let go of that ego trip. Their grandparents did yeoman’s work not only keeping them fed, well-rested and safe – they attentively gleaned newness and discovery out of our babies. Suddenly, our kiddos were big enough to not just sit in the bouncy seat briefly looking bored as they had weeks earlier – the last time I bothered to try. They now LOVED the bouncy seat, just as my parents had thought they might. Legs charging and crashing down, bouncing their own bums like tiny ships on big waves and cracking themselves up over and over. My parents sent videos of their delicious little grins and I smiled back and ached for the miles between us.

Each day, my parents carried my children around and let them frantically scan the house, mesmerized by Nana’s flowers and Bapa’s tools and vegetable garden. They were held for hours by arms that were not ours and they fell soundly in love. And through the petty heartache of realizing they don’t need only us in life, pride rang around me like a bell. Look at these strong, smart kids who already have radar for good people they can relax into because they are loved so fiercely and will be protected so finely!

A confession: what I secretly wanted was to know that no one could replace me. That they were happier when I was around. That they depended on me and I was nurturing, loving or baby whispering-y enough to meet their needs better than anyone else.

But offering that reassurance is not their jobs.

Here’s what my kiddos needed from me that week: to entrust them with safe people and then take a big step back and let them learn to build relationships with other caring adults. Even in this first year, I’m understanding how important that need is.

Juniper

This world does a lot to break and distort our understanding of ourselves. Comparing ourselves to the cool kids never really ends whether we’re coveting that perfect European family vacation on Instagram while our kids melt down in line at Target or wondering why our old college roommate’s career seems to be escalating so much faster than ours. Unrealistic body standards in the media, the first cruel things you hear about yourself on the playground. Already, I think about what the world is going to do to my kids and I want to bubble wrap them to protect them from every single barb or bruise.

I know I can’t. And, really, I shouldn’t. Grit is how they grow.

One of the best ways I can help them navigate through life’s many challenges is to surround them with loving, wise adults who can each take a piece of their reflection, broken by the world, and hold it back up to them. People who can say, Ulysses, this is who you are. And, Juniper, here is what I see in you. Until all that positive feedback builds them a beautiful and more complete mirror of their hearts and character and talents and challenges and potential. Until they learn to be those reflectors for other people too.

My sister has five beautiful kiddos and for the past 13 years she has let me build a profound relationship with them. Frankly, I took it for granted because I didn’t understand how hard it can be to watch someone else become important to and loved by your kids. I have a deep respect now for how she let me spend time with them and get to know them independently of how she knows them. That’s been one of the trickiest things for me so far: having other people teach you about your kids when you so dearly want and expect yourself to be the expert on them. But I am slowly learning that if I can reduce my pride enough to welcome in new perspectives on my kids, I’ll be a much better parent for it.

Uly

Already, my son and daughter are surrounded by my parents and my sister and brother-in-law and their smart, kind, funny cousins. By our dearest friends and my husband’s deeply loving family and the parents of our kids’ little playmates. And soon, we’ll add coaches or music teachers or camp counselors and pastors and teachers to that mix.

I want to remember that this is our village – not our competition. That these people who we trust and who care about my babies will see them from angles where my vision gets blocked. They’ll be less myopic and more unbiased and sometimes more patient and less emotional than me. They’re going to notice potential and skills and flaws in my kids to which I am blind. And I want to practice quieting my ego and listening as they describe this terrain to me so that I can learn how to navigate it better.

For the sake of my kids, I want to step out of the way and let them learn from this team of loving adults directly – about how to fly fish and paint and plant a garden. But also that there is a world of people who believe in them and see the good in them. There is a world of people who expect them to be kind and brave and honest and good to themselves and others. There is a world counting on them in so many ways.

Just like in that quietly beeping NICU so many nights ago, I still want my son and daughter to know that I will never abandon them or love them with anything less than devotion that aches my heart and distracts me daily. But I also want them to know there is also an army of other loving people behind them. I hope that gives them the confidence to march out into the world and trust their place in it. I hope it gives them a surplus of worth and kindness that they can pass on to the other kids they meet.

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