The best books are written in such a way that the reader becomes totally engaged in the story. We identify with the characters. The plot is suspenseful. We laugh, cry or both.
Such is life.
Everyday we breathe, we write another page in our personal books of life—through every season or major event, more chapters. And just as an author quickly establishes in the first chapters who a character is and what the reader should believe about that character, we parents establish character in children, helping them and everyone around them understand what they should believe about themselves. Author and psychologist Irene Kassorla says that the “pen that writes your life story must be held in your own hand,” I submit that this is only the case when you become an adult.
The truth is, we aren’t the only writers of our stories. As children, the “story” of our lives was likely begun by our parents, or whoever was responsible for us at the time. Some of the writing was good: there are intriguing intros with just enough good stuff to keep those who “read” us wanting to learn more. For others, the writing was bad. Real bad. With missing pieces and everything. Yet regardless of whether our early lives were good, bad or somewhere in-between, we still got stuff on our pages. And it impacts us even when we’re grown.
Now granted, characters and people certainly change. Especially when there are big events, conflicts and changes in their lives. But even then, if a character is firmly defined at their core, then that’s what’s going to come through as they face new scenarios and circumstances. Otherwise, the story—the life—feels inauthentic.
As I muddle my way through motherhood, I’ve come to realize that I have the privilege of being the ghostwriter of the first few chapters of my baby girl’s life. God has given me the incredible (and sometimes overwhelming) task of starting her story. Lord, I hope I get it right.
Be clear: I know that the prevailing approach in post-modern parenting today is allowing children the freedom to write their own chapters. To establish their own way. Call me old school, but that makes no sense whatsoever. From what experience or point of reference can a child write their story except by what’s first given to them by the adults in their lives?
Just think of what would happen if a two-year-old were responsible for writing their first few chapters. Every “page” would be filled with Elmo dolls and constant demands for cookies (at least that’s how goes down in my house). This would ultimately translate into a “give me what I want when I want it” kind of understanding about life and living. We all know adults who seem to have been given too much leeway as children and were not taught boundaries. No good.
And while the “writing” is certainly a more collaborative effort when it comes to our teens, if we allowed them to write without any guidance whatsoever, their pages would likely be filled with a revolving door of friends and extreme efforts to be seen as cool. Without our “editorial” consultation on how to define themselves in relation to the rest of the world, what people think of them would end up meaning more than what they think about themselves—or what God thinks of them. Yikes!
It’s not that the self-centeredness of being a toddler or the teenage desire for acceptance are bad things. They aren’t. They are very real stages of development. But without a mature person to walk alongside them, to “write” a firm foundation to their story, we run the risk of birthing the Ariel Castros and George Zimmermans of the world. (Yep, I said it)
If I don’t involve myself in writing the first few chapters of my daughter’s life, then I miss the opportunity to inject lessons that she’d never come up with on her own. And as I’m guiding her hand, God is guiding mine.
In these first few chapters of MaKayla’s life, I want to write in coping mechanisms for her so that she will learn how to deal with her frustrations and anger both now, as she’s learning to put on her jacket, and later when she’s confronted by the betrayal of a friend. I want to write into her life the knowledge that she is deeply loved by God and mommy and daddy. That there is nothing that she can do to lose His love or ours (this security is better than all the Elmos on earth). From that, she will learn to approach all her relationships with this same unconditional love and grace and mercy. I want to write into her life ways that her inherent intelligence can bloom and shine alongside the wisdom she’ll get along the way.
And that’s just Chapter 1!
Motherhood is one heck of a ghostwriting gig, huh?
So yeah, as a writer there are plenty of folks whose story I’d love to write (I’m looking at you, Mary Blige). But baby girl? In her, I’m drafting the greatest story ever written.
Question: If you have young children, what have you begun writing into their lives?
Tracey Michae'l is a writer and educator based out of the Philadelphia area. She is a wife to William and a mother to a beautiful two-year old little girl. You can find her on the web at www.traceymlewis.com.