Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Visionary Parenting

It is impossible to describe the many facets that contribute to adequate parenting. There are cultural expectations, family of origin issues, preferences, temperaments to consider. Most people who have children hope to be at least adequate, as marked by various signposts along the way. "If we can just get him through high school we will have done enough," one parent might muse. Others might point to a developmental delay or situational challenge, that once resolved, is a measure of success. "I cannot tell you how nice it will be when she doesn't need to wear diapers anymore." Most people in the world who parent children know that they need (for many reasons) to do at least the minimum for their kids.

I think, though, that there is something different about people who adopt children, especially children who have had months or years of negative experiences, or whose early moments were fraught with pain or addiction or desolation or abandonment. I am one such parent, and I must confess that part of my need to adopt children, especially older ones, was the need to offer them a better chance at life than they would have otherwise had.

I have taken for granted that I would be an adequate parent. After all, didn't the foster care licensure process and then the potential adoptive parent home study process ascertain that? My homes have been safe ones for children to live in. We have an abundance of food (sadly several of our body shapes will attest to that). Claudia and I invest much of our time and energy in our children's lives. We are present for sporting and fine arts events. We are diligent (for more reason that one, admittedly) about their involvement in the community of faith. I know that I am an adequate parent.

But it's not an adequate parent I ever intended to be. I have wanted to be better than average to offer the children who would be mine a source of strength, a reference point for character, a guide. There have been many moments when I have been accorded those opportunities, and it delights my heart. When I hear the words or attitude of one of my children, expressed in his or her own way, echoing back to me a deep premise of my own life, it is gratifying. To know that I have the capacity to form the soul and character of a child is a privilege like no other.

In a word, I have a vision for each of my children. It is a vision larger than that of an adequate parent, and I have to admit that my sense of what visionary parenting is changes as my children grow older. As I see their personalities emerge, and their tendencies becoming typical behaviors, and their ways of being who they are becoming, I have to recognize, in humility, that there is only so much I can do about that. We have had the opportunity to know in the early stages the birth parents of at least a couple of our children, so it helps me to temper my sense of vision. And, try as I might, I cannot make myself let go of a higher vision for my children than they might wish.

Visionary parenting includes, of course, expectations both spoken and unspoken. I am smart enough to know that parents need to harbor some expectations close to the heart, for no one (child or adult) can stand the full flood of a visionary person's expectations all at once. But expectations do need to be communicated during times of openness on the part of the child and during times of closure. Expectations are not moments for parental abuse of authority or for imposition of ideals untested by the person in question. Expectations are the preferred reality, the vision of a life to be. It is, in short, the dream for what life can be for my son or daughter.

I dream differently for each of my children. For one of my sons, my dream is that he would simply finish high school, find a job that will provide his needs and perhaps discover someone to love along the way. For another of my sons I dream of a meaningful vocational life, a growing depth of character and a contribution to the world beyond himself. My dreams are not identical, and I do my best to avoid vicariously living through my children, but it is hard.

It is hard to dream, knowing the disappointments, the heartbreaks, the setbacks, the doubts.

But, I am discovering, it is even harder not to dream. To have no vision for my child is debilitating for him or her and for me. I must dream, I must hold forth some sort of vision for their future and for mine.

Peter Senge, the business guru, writes in The Fifth Discipline, "Emotional tension can always be relieved by adjusting the one pole of the creative tension that is completely under our control at all times -- the vision. The feelings that we dislike go away because the creative tensions that was their source is reduced. Our goals are now much closer to our current reality. Escaping emotional tension is easy -- the only price we pay is abandoning what we truly want, our vision."

Hear me clearly. Adoptive parenting requires vision, but it must be realistic vision, and more often than not is a vision for a child that is different from that of an ordinary child. Adoptive parents cannot allow themselves to carry a vision that will only result in painful frustration for the child and for the parent, but adoptive parents must have a vision, modified by reality, but a vision nonetheless.

To have no vision is to be no parent at all.

1 comment:

Cindy said...

Great post Bart. You always make me wanna holler a big ole, "AMEN!"