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Parenthood: Great Expectations

Dale Kiefer


We all come to parenthood with certain expectations. We hope for a healthy child, a happy child, perhaps one that resembles us at least a little. Beyond that we're often reluctant to tempt fate by wishing for more. But inevitably, if we're willing to admit it, we do. We imagine, if only in secret, how pleasing it will be to have a child who is eager to learn, willing to obey, simple to train, and is a smart, athletic friend to all. We hope the child will one day think, act and feel at least somewhat as we do.

I believe that in most cases a child will not disappoint you, provided your expectations are realistic. If you are willing to put aside you own ego, and allow her to express her individuality, she will delight and nourish you.

But we cannot live through our children.

It's important to understand that your dreams are not necessarily your child's. Your son won't necessarily become a professional quarterback just because it's your dream, any more than he'll become president, unless it happens to be his dream. He's going to have his own life, and you must be willing to give him the freedom live it as he will.

Children - especially babies - are dependent on us for virtually every need, but we must be mindful that one day this will not be so. They are individuals. Even as tiny babies, they are tiny people, with distinct personalities, behavioral characteristics, likes, dislikes and wants. They must discover their own dreams, and - ultimately - make their own choices, for better or worse. We can offer guidance, but in the end only they can really choose.

At the same time, your child will delight you in ways you could never have anticipated, and could only vaguely have hoped for.

You may think you love a certain stage of your child's development and wish to stop the clock, but each stage will bring its own set of challenges and rewards. A child of 7 may need fewer hugs than a 4-year-old, but he's better at tying his own shoes and helping with the yard work. He still loves and needs you, but is proud, too, of his independence. That, in turn, makes you proud. Different accomplishments and needs, different rewards.

I remember dreaming once that my small infant and I were having a man-to-man conversation in the car on the ride home from work/day care. The dream was so vivid, and the experience so enjoyable, that it seemed perfectly natural to be conversing with my son, despite the fact that he'd hardly uttered his first word yet. Imagine my sense of déjávu then, when I found myself having precisely such a conversation with my young son one day on the way home from work/day care. It seemed as if my dream had occurred only days before, and yet he'd already moved into a significant new stage of development. Of course it did not happen overnight. But I think I caught a glimpse, then, of how painfully fast children really grow and pass through our busy lives. We must cherish each day as it comes - and be accepting of, and grateful for - the individuals we are entrusted with.

Dale Kiefer is a free-lance writer living in northern New Jersey with his wife and two young sons. Born in New Jersey some 40 years ago, Dale was raised in Kentucky, where he spent most of his life, and graduated from the University of Kentucky.

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