November 22, 2013
I’m a Mama Duck, I will admit it. I live in a beautiful pond with lots of other ducks, and oh, how I had dreamed of having a fine row of perfect little ducklings following behind me. Ducklings that look like me, swim like me, quack like me.
So there she was, a tiny, helpless, fragile little thing. Motherless, alone and afraid. I eagerly welcomed her under my wing, thrilled at the opportunity to love and nurture this precious creature. She was the duckling I had dreamed of!
It wasn’t long, however, before I began to realize that this youngster who had been entrusted into my care was, well, different. And in the pond where I live, different just won’t do.
Why is that? Who defines “normal,” anyway? Instead of accepting differences and uniqueness, why do we feel the need to find labels and rush to intervene? We don’t outright reject our children of course, but do we wholeheartedly accept them and lovingly embrace their diverse characteristics? When did parenting become less about “training up a child in the way she should go,” and more about making sure that she fits into the preconceived mold we have for her?
So just like every other foster child who has been placed in my home, she was subjected to the long, arduous process of testings, assessments, evaluations and questionnaires. Poking, probing, prying. The pursuit of answers was relentless, never ceasing until a diagnosis had been found. Several diagnoses, really. Diagnoses that require interventions, therapy, corrective measures and accommodations.
Of course evaluations and diagnoses are important tools that enable parents and teachers to understand and subsequently aid a child who is struggling. Our family has been blessed abundantly with excellent therapists and other professionals who have given invaluable advice, have referred me to community resources, and have patiently and methodically worked with my foster children day in and day out, year after year after year.
But when is it enough? The new DSM-5, the “Bible” of psychologists, lists so many disorders, syndromes, disabilities and phobias, that a child could practically drown underneath them all. At what point do the labels communicate to a child that she is deficient? Defective? When do labels become chains, imprisoning a young, developing mind and personality in a cage of acronyms from which she can never hope to escape?
I justify this pursuit of answers by saying that I am doing all of this out of my deep, deep love for her. Because I want to support her and encourage her to reach her full potential. And of course that is absolutely true. But really, has there ever been an adult in the history of the world who looked back on her childhood and thought, “I’m so thankful for that person who fixed me?” Of course not! The person remembered, the one who had the most profound influence, the most lasting impact on a life is the one who loved. Fully and unconditionally!
To paraphrase 1 Corinthians 13: If I know all of the right words to speak, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I can fathom all of the mysteries and have all of the knowledge about my child’s disabilities, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all of my time and energy to helping this child grow and thrive and succeed, but have not love, I gain nothing.
So I am learning to accept that she is who she is. That God made her a certain way for a specific purpose, and He didn’t make any mistakes. So what if she never enters the world of academia by attending Duck University? Or climbs the corporate ladder to become the next wildly successful CEO of Duck Dynasty? I can be sure that God does have plans for her, plans that are unique and perfectly suited to her personality, gifts, abilities, and talents. May I cling to His promise to “equip [her] with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in [her] what is pleasing to Him.” (Hebrews 13:21)
I am still a Mama Duck. I can’t help it . . . it’s the way God made me and I can’t change who I am. So how can I be a mother to this one who is so unlike me? How can I show her unconditional love and acceptance, when I feel so inadequate to understand her?
Perhaps I need to spend less time complaining about her substandard report card, and more time marveling at the stunning artwork she creates, the beautiful songs she composes, the details of nature that her eye captures with her camera lens.
Maybe I should lecture her less and listen to her more. Does she really need to hear, again, about taking responsibility for her life and preparing for the future? Maybe if I were silent more often, she would have the opportunity to describe her dreams for the future.
What if I spent less time frowning as I worry about who she will become, and focused instead on looking into her eyes and smiling? The years ahead may indeed be tremendously difficult and challenging for her. May she look back, during those times of struggle, and remember a mother who laughed with her, who praised her accomplishments, who simply adored her. Who actually smiled at her every single day.
I have prayed, pleading with the Lord to please, please help her. I have cried, yes cried! in frustration, “God, why aren’t you doing anything?! All I’m asking is that you make her into a duck like me. Why can’t she be like all of the other ducklings in this pond where we live?”
But God had a different plan. All along, while I was blaming Him for being silent, for ignoring my pleas, He was actually working. He was patiently and meticulously transforming her into the graceful and exquisite swan He designed her to be. No, she is not an Ugly Duckling after all. She is beautiful!