When I was pregnant with our first child, Jacob, more than 15 years ago, I came upon this quote by author and mother Elizabeth Stone: “Making the decision to have a child—it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”
Overly dramatic, I thought at the time. Surely Stone is exaggerating. While I didn’t doubt that having a child would change my life, a heart walking around outside of my body was a ridiculous idea. My child would have his identity, I would have mine, and while I would certainly care and be concerned about what happened to him, there was no way I would feel like my own heart was walking around.
Then I had Jacob. And within a day of his birth, I understood that Stone was not being overly dramatic or sentimental. She was simply stating a fact. The investment of parenthood is so intense and intimate that the line between where a child ends and where the parent begins becomes blurred.
And it wasn’t until I became a parent myself that I was able to unpack the metaphor of God as Father. If my heart was walking around outside of my body because of my love for Jacob, did God have that same feeling about me? About all people on earth? The idea that God cared as much what happened to his human family as I did about Jacob was staggering.
So how did God do it? Six billion hearts walking around? The obvious answer—God loved us so much, he set us free. Looking at baby Jacob, I wondered if I could ever let him grow and make his own mistakes, or would I need to swoop in and make everything right? Tiny, vulnerable, newborn Jacob: I wanted nothing more than to protect him from all harm.
Now, with teenage Jacob and three other younger children, I still want nothing more than to protect them from harm. But I’ve been a parent long enough to realize that both my children and I benefit when I recognize and claim that spot where I end and they begin, blurry as it may be. When I look at successful parents who have moved out of the beginning stage of parenting—moms and dads with teens or college-aged kids—what I see is balance between a heart-outside-my-body love of their child and a deep respect for that child as an individual with gifts, talents, and responsibilities separate from the parent.
These parents have learned to acknowledge their child’s struggles and problems without being consumed by them. They offer support while recognizing that it’s not up to them to be the problem solver each time, that even the heart outside the body needs to make its own way. …continued next week
—by Annemarie Scobey from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the 2010 and 2011 General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association. Here’s a sample issue.
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