The best parts of my children I didn't consciously put there. The best parts of themselves come from within, in that sacred space of the soul that I cannot control. The only thing I can do is call it out, feed it so it's strong, let it romp around so it can play and test its skill, make it feel at home.
The best parts of my boys, Connor's inherent understanding of metaphor and story, his logical mind, Finnly's big and tender heart, his wondering questions, Josie's playfulness and determination, I didn't put there. They sprang up, irrepressible, like a hot spring or a geyser.
My job is singular: help them harness and direct their flow. At first, this means that I provide their structure, the latticework that trains their identity to grow up, to bear fruit.
I'm mixing metaphors, children and their gifts are water, they're plants. Really, they're anything in the natural world that bursts forth from an unseen source under irresistible pressure.
I learned early in parenthood what I could and could not control. I don't control my children's emotions, I don't regulate their fears, I don't originate their thoughts, I don't choose their actions, I don't pick their giftings, proclivities, or struggles.
I can only respond to them. It's a horrible mistake, as a parent, to believe that you can control any outcome.
You can only influence outcomes.
Influence is potent. It comes from the latin word for "to flow into," it had a connotation of an influx, flowing matter.
Like electricity, electrons passing back and forth between atoms till they're hot and useful, like the geysers and buddings of my children's untapped potential, influence is something you direct, not control.
Apart from almost all else, the sole thing you can control on this earth is yourself.
Which is why, when I look at my children, I look for their strengths, I look for their passions, I look for what lights all the way up.
Recognize and respond. Determine and direct. That's good parenting.
I say to Connor, when he's down about doing a difficult math worksheet at the end of a long day, "I can't control your heart or your mood, you know that. You're in charge of you. Your work will go a lot faster if you take it bit by bit and work with a happy heart."
He huffs and says, "I know that. Just give me a minute."
I watch him marshal himself, steel his resolve, shake it off, and keep on plodding.
We sat around our dining room table tonight, painting with watercolors. I've been messing around with simple iconic line drawings really, as nothing more than a little personal art therapy, some cathartic and entertaining self-expression.
Watching all three children paint themselves, sitting and waiting for inspiration to strike, letting out a satisfied sigh when looking at their final piece of art, I see how influence works.
I give the tools, I provide the example, they fill in their blank papers with whatever they like, a little different, a little similar. Some completely original. But always, within the same medium.
It's just like parenthood, the circle of it, the electricity of it, the influence, the inflowing.
Really, I can't wait to see how they choose to paint their lives and wield their influence. My sphere of influence may be small, may be entirely contained around this little kitchen table, but there's no where else I'd rather spend it.