A few weeks ago, I was scheduled to move into a new place, busy with work, and overwhelmed. I knew I needed to find people to help me, and that I probably needed to pack. I’m fairly certain excellent moving skills are not innate. My boxes felt haphazard, and by the end, I just wanted to sit down in the middle of the chaos and cry. Instead, I made a list, I started texting people, and I asked for help and began wrapping fragile things in newspaper. I consulted Google. I was the adult I’d been waiting on.
I remember thinking as a little girl that my mother knew everything. I could ask her a question and she would answer it, usually without hesitation. She seemed to know how to spell all words and how to clean anything. I didn’t worry about how many vegetables I was eating, or how many hours of sleep I logged per night. I left all that in her hands.
I’ve been an adult for a few years now, although I’m still waiting to feel like one. As I’ve encountered more complicated questions, and asked my mom about them, I’ve realized she doesn’t have all the answers. There is no switch that flips at a certain age, making any of us fully competent.
As a child, I was very aware of boundaries. Sometimes I pushed against them, or jumped right over them, but I always knew they were there. As a naturally anxious kid (and adult), I’ve needed to know the rules, the plan, the structure.
A couple of years ago, I realized that after decades of looking to my parents for cues, it was time to take on a mantle of adulthood I hadn’t considered: I needed to be my own parent.
It sounds funny at first, perhaps, but maybe it shouldn’t sound so foreign to believers. Our God is often styled as a parent and us as children. Not only this, but our God wrapped himself in flesh and came to earth as a child, relating to God as Father throughout his time on earth. It could be said that God parented God.
These thoughts make me feel less sheepish as I click on the parenting articles my friends post on Facebook. They caption them with comments like, “All you moms will appreciate this” and “Toddlers, am I right?” But more often than not, I can see myself in both the roles described. I am the child who needs healthy snacks throughout the day to combat low blood sugar and a scarcity mentality. I am also the parent who has access to farmers markets and grocery stores, money, and portion-sized Tupperware.
Many of my friends are parents of small children. They are gracious enough to give me a close-up look at parenting. I have learned parents do not have all the answers (although they work hard to have many of them). I have learned that when their child is worried, or tired, or feeling unwell, often they are too. Still, they stay present, they are kind and patient, they do everything in their power for this person they love so much.
It is inherently vulnerable to be a child. You are small and not very strong. You don’t have power, or much money, or almost any control. I’m not convinced we lose this vulnerability as we grow up. I often sense the girls I’ve been in my life while picking out new clothes, craving a long-forgotten meal, or hiding in the corner at a party. I can hear a song on the radio, or glance at an old photo, and feel like Alice after she’s shrunk a few feet in Wonderland.
I sometimes wish I could time-travel back to certain moments in my life, especially the ones when I felt humiliated and small. I would wrap an arm around my shoulders and hold my smaller self, perhaps crying in community.
I can’t go back, but I can care for myself now, after a fashion. On the way home from a date that didn’t go as I’d hoped, I can talk to myself in a soothing voice, telling myself true things about my identity. When I’m tired and cranky, I can put myself down for a nap. I can remind myself to hydrate, to eat, to play. I can choose not to over-schedule myself. I can buy myself thoughtful presents.
It can be easy for me to forget that I am a beloved child of God. In fact, my belovedness might just be the hardest thing for me to grasp about faith. I know I am redeemed, forgiven, sanctified, but beloved? Really? As I’ve been learning to care for myself like a loving parent, I realize I’m learning to care for a person God loves very deeply, someone God loves with a love as strong as the best kind of parent. God is the sort of parent who gives fishes and bread instead of snakes and stones. Even God is about healthy snacks.
Many of my friends have told me they hadn’t truly understood love until they became a parent. As a single woman, this has sometimes been a hard thing to hear. But recently, I realized it’s been true for me too. Choosing to put myself in the position of parent to myself has opened up a whole new world of love to me. I am seeing myself differently, God differently, the people around me differently. I might not know the answer to every question I ask, and I might say “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” even though I know it’s not true. But I’m learning to trust myself to have my best interests at heart, at least most of the time, and in that process I’m learning to believe that just maybe, God does too.