Monday, January 5, 2015

The Perfect Child

  • My child wakes up sunny and serene, after 10-12 hours of uninterrupted sleep every day.
  • My child never fights a nap, snuggling into a blanket and whispering "I love you. Night night."
  • My child hasn't been sick in months because he eats enough vitamins and minerals from whole fruits, veggies, and protein at every meal.
  • Breastfeeding started with a perfect latch, without sore nipples or mastitis, and continued with just the right weight gain long past the minimum number of months without ever supplementing.
  • My child has never refused to hold my hand in parking lots, crossing the street, or crowded stores for the sake of safety, and yet openly and lovingly accepts strangers, new children, and babysitters.
  • My child has never struggled or failed to meet a milestone on time.
  • My child has never hit, bit, kicked, spat or yelled at any other person, except in self-defense to escape an unsafe situation.

Try googling "perfect child."
Beyond this bit of humor, the results are sad...

Can you believe this list?? This isn't just some "when I'm a parent, I'll do things differently than other parents" list. It is tempting to succumb to a future list, having taught years as a teacher...

Parents and future parents actively strive to control the environment or their nurturing in order to achieve the perfect child listed above.

Parents and future parents never consider fostering or adoption, because it seems like a crap shot at best compared with the ability to "completely and wholly" influence their child's trajectory from conception: through genetic screening, through prenatal diet and exercise, through initial bonding hours after birth. The thought of fostering or adopting a child with even one clinical diagnosis scares even Christian parents.

Parents and future parents miss out on an important truth that could make themselves more open and compassionate when they hold dearly to any of these perfect child myths. The truth is, humans are imperfect and selfish from conception; we may not manifest our inherent evil at birth, but the self-centered seed and need for God's transformation is present from conception. We try to manage behavior with psychology techniques, manage food environment and nutrition to control the mind and body systems, and we even abort less than 'perfect' embryos and fetuses; even many Christians miss out on seeing God's transforming power at work in our children's lives, often because we don't pray, we don't ask him.


Last month before Thanksgiving, we visited the allergist for an annual check in. The only thing we truly needed was another epi-pen prescription since our current ones expire in Jan 2015. But we went ahead and had Evan (33 months) skin prick tested for shellfish, almond, pistachio, dog, cat, dust mite, and of course, egg. All tests came back clearly negative, except for egg. For the first time in two years, egg was diminished (the egg skin prick test is consistently very accurate in determining allergy, unlike milk). The allergist complimented us on our strict adherence to an egg-free household and how we watch out for Evan at Sunday school and group gatherings; she recommended continuing with strict avoidance of the allergen and seemed very hopeful that he's showing signs of outgrowing this allergy.

It's very tempting to pat myself on the back, "Good job, me, for controlling his nutrition and environment. You did it; he's starting to outgrow the allergy." But although avoiding cross-contamination on labels and touched surfaces is truly important for Evan's health, I see the greatest improvement through prayer. God has answered, "Yes" this time, he has done this for Evan and others to know his sovereign power over all aspects of life. And so we keep praying for the allergy to be completely outgrown.

Mama-guilt can tempt. I've done my share of racking my brain since we suspected that he had an egg allergy at 9 months. Did I eat too much egg in pregnancy, or while breastfeeding? After all, omelets were a favorite source of protein for both Abigail and I during that time. Should I have washed my hands more often, or better? Should I have not held Evan on my lap during meals? Should I have followed a recommended allergen introduction schedule for introducing solid foods? Should I have breastfed more, longer? Did I miss an important window in introducing solids for his gut's health?

My pregnancy with him was perfect. He was always in the same length/weight percentiles from birth, so breastfeeding was a perfect food for him. Evan just developed an egg allergy by 9 months, and has continued to be allergic until now at 34 months.

The only certain thing

What other things will develop in the future, for my "perfect" children? Leukemia? Cancer? Learning disability? Physical disability? The unknown and uncontrolled aspects of the future in a broken world make living a crap shot - for biological, fostered, or adopted children. Even if I had elected to have genetic prenatal screening and something outside of 'normal' were revealed, I still would have let that child live and joyfully parented him or her. Only God is perfect; only God is completely in control against evil.

Abigail has been asking me to read the story of the man born blind a lot over the past 4 days.
"As Jesus went along, he saw a man who was blind. He had been blind since he was born.Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned? Was this man born blind because he sinned? Or did his parents sin?” 
“It isn’t because this man sinned,” said Jesus. “It isn’t because his parents sinned. He was born blind so that God’s power could be shown by what’s going to happen. While it is still day, we must do the works of the one who sent me." John 9:1-4a
Did God cause this allergy in Evan? Does God cause disability? Does God give us 'difficult' children to teach parents a lesson? Yes. And no. "Jesus recognizes that blindness is not good; it is part of a universe in which God's reign is not yet fully realized" (Moore, Adopted for Life). God knows whom he creates before conception. God never causes evil, but he may use it to teach me greater reliance on him or to manifest his power. The only certain thing, is that God is intimately with us through all of our difficult lives -- however long or short they may be. Jesus came down into our crappy lives, to live like us and die for us. God is within our hearts as believers and will never leave us, no matter how difficult the going may be.

God has taught me and Nick through the learning experience of Evan's allergy. He's taught us to be very thankful for the food choices and access that we have as a family; we have all of our food needs met.

God has given us different eyes for health safety policies, and we never take them for granted at the YMCA or public library; God has also given us a heart for making the environment safer at Sunday School or group children's events and we usually proactively contact leaders for a face to face conversation.

God has used our experience with an allergy to open our hearts to whom we would consider fostering or adopting; how could we reject another person created in the image of God based on a label or condition... when our biological son has a label and condition? There may be a day when only Christian families welcome biological and adopted children who are 'undesirable' or who have medical or psychological conditions. This welcoming could occur within family structures, or by financially supporting adoption for others, or by volunteering with organizations that serve families and women in crisis.
"So here's the question.  Do you want most of all to be parents, or do you want most of all to be conservators of your genetic material?
How will we talk with our neighbors about the miracle of the new birth when the old one was something they engineered themselves? How will we talk to our neighbors of the unconditional love of a Father for his children, no matter what, when only Christians know what that means?" 
Moore, Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches

Our prayer is that God would make us parents, and make us a family as he sees fit, for his glory, and so that others may see him at work and praise God.

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