I think it’s important to hear and even to appreciate people who are very different than ourselves, people who may fall on the other side of the spectrum whether it be religiously, politically, or artistically. Voices and experiences, especially those outside our own, matter. Surrounding ourselves with likeminded people constantly only puts us in a bubble that alienates the outside world. All this, in my humble opinion.
It’s one of the reasons I think regularly and solely going to one church is limiting. Can you love God with a Catholic, a Muslim, a Pagan without giving up your core beliefs? Sure you can! In fact, maybe the face of God they see will add dimension and perspective to the face you do. It’s all about the blind men and the elephant, I think. One doesn’t have to be wrong for others to be right. And yes, maybe those outlooks were borne into me as the daughter of small town Midwest, communion-taking girl and her immigrant, Buddhist from a refugee camp husband. I can embrace and appreciate them both and, more importantly, the idea that the world is an expansive, layered place that has room for all sorts of beliefs and all sorts of experiences.
Except on this one thing, I am unbending. To parent is to love, to give of yourself every day without hoping and certainly not expecting something in return from your children. Parenting is not an economy, and it is not reciprocal. Parenting is an altar where you go to lay your soul, both beautiful and damaged, so that from your ashes something vibrant and alive and dearly loved can rise. This should cross all religions, cultures, and families. Parenting isn’t the death of the man or woman you were before it, but it is undeniably the birth of a bigger you. It should be.
And here’s where my complaint comes in. I read and follow the blog of a conservative Christian man who lost his wife a few years back and is now raising their toddler daughter with the help of his three grown children from a previous marriage. They work the farm. They have homey Christmases and the kind of barn raisings that, to me, an exclusive city dweller, seem like something from another time. Clearly, this man and I have little in common except for one beautiful thing. We love our families. That similarity, along with his obvious talent for storytelling, has kept me coming back to his writing time and time again. I can relate. I can hope for the best for his little clan.
But today I read his recent post where he admitted that, after the devestating loss of his wife, his middle daughter came out to him. She was in love with another woman, wanted to build a life with her partner. She’d never been brave enough to tell her mom and didn’t want to break her heart in the last stretch of her life. This man went on to explain how it’s taken him more than a year to comes to grips with his child’s “alternative” choices, how he’ll host their wedding at his farm despite the fact that he still believes and his faith guides him to remember that such a pairing is wrong. He’ll love her no matter what, he says. After all, it’s up to God to judge. I could tell through his narrative that the one thing he felt about all of this was- brave. Brave for accepting his daughter. Brave for meeting and speaking with her soulmate. Brave for telling this story to the world.
Pump. The. Brakes.
To parent is to love without expectation or condition. It is an altar, remember?
It is not brave to accept your child’s preferences, in the bedroom or otherwise. It is human. It is expected. It is what is simple and right. He admitted he thought about limiting her access to her littlest sister because he wanted to protect the vulnerable tot from “sin” in the wake of her mother’s passing. No. No. No!
This man spent no time looking inward, wondering whatever happened in their relationship as parent and child that would make her feel ashamed and secretive of part of herself. He never asked, “Sweetheart, has there ever been a time you felt like you were answering your calling and I turned you away from it or judged you harshly?” Instead, it took him over a year of reflection and questioning to get to a place where he puts acceptance of his child first and disagreement with her happiness second.
No parent is perfect. Parenting is an altar that, on some days, you run up to with a fresh step and arms full of treasures to lay down. On other days you barely make it to that sacred space on your knees while wondering how you could possibly have so little left to give. But you give it anyway.
To my own girls- I want you to know this. I don’t dream of your wedding dress. I have no preconceived notions about what your life partner will be like as far as gender, race, culture, or career. I don’t sit back and imagine picking out a homecoming or prom dress with you, not because I don’t want to be part of these things but because I have no expectations about who you are going to be. Those are your decisions to make, your paths to choose. You don’t owe me these experiences nor do you owe the world the right to tell you what is best for you. You’re smart. You’re resilient. You know your heart and mind best. My only hope is that, until you find a partner who treats you like the gift you are, whose strengths and weaknesses fit together with yours in a way that makes you better together than apart, who loves you at your best and worst, you’re okay being on your own. You’re able to find happiness and peacefulness in yourself so that, when the right partner comes along whenever, you are able to be a respite from the storm for them. May they be that to you as well. I hope that through all your decisions you are able to love yourself. And that, my babies, is the only preference of yours I care about.
I haven’t decided if I’ll keep reading and watching this fellow’s blog. Not that he needs my readership. I’m glad he got to where he did. I think he still has quite the journey ahead. Could be interesting to see where those next steps take him. And I sincerely wish for him that his daughter loves him much more forgivingly, unconditionally than the way he recently has loved her.
This post originally appeared on M N Maloney’s blog.
Mandy Nachampassack-Maloney is a published children’s book author who details her parenting journey on her blog, mnmaloney.wordpress.com.