I have a 10-month-old daughter. Yikes! Who on earth gave me permission to be responsible for an entire human being?! When I was still pregnant, I thought about all the ways my shortcomings would cause harm to my daughter in the future.
Cue the anxiety! There's a terribly cynical phrase that I used to say when I talked about becoming a parent: The only thing we can promise our children is that we're going to mess them up.
I felt this pressure to do everything in my power to be my best self, so I could hopefully model healthy behavior for my daughter and protect her from harm. I had this idea that if I didn't do this well, then my child would default to a negative view of herself and toward wayward behaviors. I thought I would need to correct her from a chaotic default state.
Fortunately, now that Isabel has arrived I believe I had it all wrong. First of all, it appears she knows what she's doing far better than I do. From the moment she was born, it was obvious that her body was already designed to propel her forward through her developmental stages, and to advocate for her needs. Even the moment she emerged, with no neck control and eyes still closed, she knew how to find food (if you're not familiar, Google "breast crawl" and be amazed by how prepared babies are to enter the world).
And so it turns out that rather than proactively anticipate Isabel's needs and anxiously address them in advance, I simply need to create a safe environment where she is free to develop, and be available to support her when she needs help.
No doubt, this is far easier said than done. But it's beautiful to let her develop into who she is, rather than interfere with a process that is already designed to work. Not only does this make me a less anxious momma, I'm also less likely to disrupt her innate good nature.
Sometimes this process feels tough. For example, I was washing dishes today while Isabel played at my feet. She inadvertently threw her toy across the room, and upon realizing that she no longer had her toy, she started crying as if her whole world had fallen apart.
Mind you, Isabel has been able to crawl for a couple of months now. She can definitely go get her toy on her own. And sometimes I will do that for her. But as she cried bloody murder today, I said, "It's okay baby, you can get your toy." Somewhat mystified, she looked around, crawled to her toy, grabbed it and kept playing and laughing as though nothing happened.
Image courtesy of Marie Fang
As a more painful example to acknowledge, as Isabel starts to practice standing up, I intentionally don't attempt to break her fall when she inevitably tumbles. Even though neither she nor I enjoy the experience of letting her fall, I believe she has the strength to learn the ins and outs of her environment and adjust accordingly. And of course, I'm there to comfort her if her fall was an ouchy.
These kinds of experiences happen several times an hour. Whenever they happen, I think about whether this might be more of God's parenting style with me. Less of a Let me get that done for you. kind of God and more of an I believe in you, you can do it Marie! kind of God.
As I continue to learn how to let Isabel become her own person, I'm realizing that I've held God accountable to an unhealthy parental standard as my heavenly parent. If I needed something, I thought I ought to ask him to do it for me. If there was something scary around the corner, I expected him to protect me from it.
But maybe by not being so quick to intervene, God is allowing me to know my own capabilities, to access my own strength, and advocate for my own needs. And, if I really am in a bind, I can trust he's keeping a close eye and will pull me out of it or lead me through it, if needed.
If God did things the way I expected—if he did everything for me and protected me from everything scary or uncomfortable, I would be completely ill-equipped to face reality. And worse, I wouldn't trust in my own capabilities. It would be a recipe for dependence and low self-esteem. Truthfully, this is a really toxic kind of relationship and I don't think that's what a good God is about.
I imagine God feels so proud of us when he sees us use our full range of capacities, grow into who we are, and advocate for our needs—not because he's unavailable to help us— but because he knows he designed us well, and he finds joy in watching us unfold.
Marie Fang has attended The River since 2012. Before moving to the Bay Area, Marie was involved in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and at Coast Vineyard Church in San Diego. She runs her own private practice in San Jose as a Christian psychologist.
Marie and her husband, Daniel, have been married since 2009. Marie is passionate about learning to love those who are frequently unloved, meeting with those on the margins of church, and guiding others in their journey of developing a healthy sense of identity.