Earlier this month, my 13-year-old son was diagnosed with the flu for the second time this flu season. Yes, a second time. Same illness, different strain. Sigh.
Needless to say, around 5 pm—after braving doctor’s offices and long pharmacy lines and rescheduling meetings and getting the other kids home from school—I’d had enough of that cold, dreary, February day. I was emotionally exhausted.
So I decided to ask my fifteen-year-old daughter to make dinner. Because I just wasn’t up to it.
Strangely enough, she immediately perked up from her Netflix coma and agreed.
An hour later, the table was beautifully set for a delicious meal of honey-glazed salmon, brussel sprouts, and marble potatoes. Finally, I thought. All those episodes of Beat Bobby Flay are paying off.
After we ate, my daughter was all smiles and extremely proud of her contribution. And I was proud to see her feeling so good about herself.
I tell you all of this for a reason. My daughter is a natural-born foodie. She loves to cook and bake and watch the Food Network religiously. Making dinner makes her happy.
I, on the other hand, would rather open a can of Spaghettios and serve them cold. Dinnertime is something I generally dread, and I try to find the easiest, shortest route to a healthy, delicious home-cooked meal that I can find. Thank goodness for crockpots; I just wasn’t quite blessed with the “cooking” gene.
But my daughter was. And this is a special part of who she is, one that adds tremendous value to our family. I don’t know or understand how cooking can bring so much joy to someone, but I sure see this in my daughter. And even if I don’t get it, it is my job as her parent to cultivate this.
Because as parents, we are the cultivators. Our children are like flowering plants. Different personalities require different care to truly grow and bloom. The hard part is that, unlike many of these plants, kids don’t come with specific instructions for care. We must figure this out along the way. We must pay attention to what they love and what they’re good at and formulate our own set of instructions based on what we see can help them to grow and bloom.
I believe that if we can cultivate them into full bloom, there’s a much better chance that they’ll survive adversity in life. Because if they’re already wilting in good weather, they’re certainly not going to survive the bad.
If my daughter came with instructions for care, they might read like this: Allow me to pick the restaurant and recommend the entrée and cook dinner for our family now and then. Take me to ride a horse often. Let me spend quality time with friends frequently. Put me in charge of a household project on occasion. Take me to explore new places. Let me read quietly when I need some alone time. And just listen and let me cry when I need to talk about it.
I’m slowly figuring it out along the way: If I want her to make her grades and be motivated to achieve and truly find joy and maintain quality relationships in life, I must properly care for her. I must not only feed her passions, but also encourage her talents. I must be careful not to criticize her weaknesses, but instead point her in the direction of her strengths.
And though I must make rules and enforce them and hold her accountable, I must not force my own personal viewpoints and rigid expectations onto her. Because she is not me.
When I try to force my daughter to be someone she isn’t—some crazy perfect version that I want her to be so that I will look good to others—that’s when she’ll slowly start to wilt away. That’s when she’ll begin to lean on things that she shouldn’t. And that’s when I’m not following the proper instructions for her care.
As her parent, I am her cultivator. And I want to raise a child with a real sense of purpose. A child who believes she is worth more than a number on a report card or a weight on the scale or a filtered Instagram post. A child who thinks she’s more than some fancy diploma from some expensive university. More than some completely unattainable version of Hollywood beauty.
I want to cultivate her into full bloom. To ensure that she truly sees and appreciates her own unique, God-given talents. To help her use these to benefit society and leave behind a meaningful legacy. And, someday, if she has children of her own, I want her to cultivate their potential in the same way.
Parents, we must cultivate our children’s sense of purpose. Because if they’re too busy believing in themselves and using their God-given abilities, they’ll be too busy to even think about the bad stuff.