Vision can become a positive goal to work towards for the future. On the other hand, a fantasy is a product of the imagination, an unreal mental image, a daydream. Before I became a mother I had an image in mind of how this would be. After nine months of a joyful, easy pregnancy, I would have an untroubled delivery and give birth to the child of my dreams. However, reality broke into my dreams and changed my focus.
That image in my mind was of the child of my dreams. Strong and healthy, my baby would be happy and have pink, chubby cheeks, round little arms with dimpled elbows. The picture of joyful contentment peering out of the crib, all cooing and smiles. After a happy babyhood this child would grow and mature in wisdom and sensitivity. Learning would come effortlessly and this child would take delight in all kinds of schoolwork, be intelligent and at the top of the class. This child would have a strong body, an alert mind, and be a natural athlete. And, of course, this child would be calm, quiet, tidy, and would happily help with household chores. This dream child would always be aware of the needs of others and be looking for ways to help. Naturally, there would never be any whining or fussing or crying. As the mother of such a child, I would be beaming with pride and delight. This child would grow up to be influential for making positive changes in our world for the betterment of all mankind. The image I could see of this dream child was wonderful. Motherhood could be so easy if you just do it right.
A few weeks into my pregnancy I started to have doubts about my image of childbearing. I began to have “morning sickness” all day, every day. Finally after a few months the nausea subsided. For a short while it seemed to be the easy pregnancy I had anticipated. Then at seven months gestation I began to notice some troubling symptoms of toxemia. The doctors tried to deal with it and control it, but I was going into a serious medical condition. My blood pressure, which had always been normal, went sky-high, and no medication seemed to be able to control it. Neither my baby nor I were doing well. They put me in the hospital. For eleven days I laid only on my left side (for the lowest possible blood pressure) -- trying to gain every tiny bit of time possible to for my baby to develop. Each day the doctors would carefully monitor the fetal heart rate. My son was born eight weeks early by Cesarean section. Later I found out that morning the fetal heart rate was a flat line. His heart was beating so faintly the sensitive instruments could not pick it up. Although it did take my body a while to recover from the surgery, after the delivery I began to get better almost immediately. My blood pressure returned to normal, and my mind began to clear, but my baby’s struggles had just begun.
Taken to the neonatal intensive care unit, my baby was too sick to be in an incubator. His tiny body lay almost still on a warming table. A small hand-lettered sign was all that announced that this was my son. A nurse kept constant watch over him. He was hooked up to a confusing array of beeping equipment including a heart monitor, IVs and a ventilator. Only two pounds and twelve ounces, he lay still, struggling quietly to breathe. His skin seemed tinted a grayish yellow; his arms and legs were thin, about as big around as my thumb. Frankly, he reminded me of the pitiful pictures of refugee babies in a starvation camp. This was not what I had expected. What happened to my dream child? I was supposed to be of strong, healthy, peasant farm stock; give birth to my beautiful, full-term baby and go on plowing, or something like that. My illusions were shattered.
Usually when a new baby is born, the baby and mother come home after a short stay in the hospital. Soon thereafter the baby is shown off to the world, lots of oohs and aahs by family and friends over the new baby. A glowing (even if exhausted) mother takes delight in her new baby’s acceptance into the circle of her life. In contrast, when a baby is born premature it is a different beginning. Still struggling for life, the baby remains in the hospital, and the mom comes home with empty arms. When the baby finally does come home it is still so small and fragile that visitors are not a good idea. Finally, months later when the baby is well enough to be visited and shown off--it can seem like no one is interested any longer. That can leave the mom with yet another sadness.
The mom feels a very real sense of loss when a child is premature. Not only grief for the full-term pregnancy that never was, also perhaps a feeling of guilt (no matter what reassurance the doctors give) that maybe somehow, something I did caused this and has hurt my baby. Then there is the grief for the child that will never be, that image of the perfect baby--the child of my dreams.
My son’s struggles did not end with coming home after nine weeks in intensive care. Here again the child of my dreams was very different from my reality. No cooing and smiling face was greeting me, looking out of the crib. Instead, I had to contend with a baby who weighed only four and a quarter pounds, was still on oxygen and a heart monitor. He cried for 15 hours out of every 24. My baby still had special medical needs (later he would require surgery for hernias and a wandering eye).
I had to give up the child of my dreams. Again. If I had held onto that illusion I would have missed the blessings God sent me in the child I have. My son is a wonderful child and a treasure to me. Yet once in a while envy would rear its ugly head and I would catch myself seeing again the fantasy image of the child of my dreams. A son with a strong, healthy body, alert brilliant mind; who is insightful, sensitive, compassionate, and an excellent scholar who enjoys learning. And of course he never whines, or complains and his room is always clean! So, is that a vision of what God wants me to help nurture and develop in this child or is that a projection of my ego?
The reality is that my son was very thin for many years, had some minor eye problems, was not quite sure footed, had a seizure disorder and a writing disability. He was always a happy, playful noisy boy whose job description seemed to include lots of mess and a fair amount of mud. He loves God and although he occasionally did surprising acts of kindness and generosity, often he was oblivious to the needs of others. He loved to read, but all homework was a struggle. As to his room, well perhaps the less said the better.
As a parent I have pondered the difference between vision and fantasy. Over the years I have thought a lot about what characteristics I wanted to see developed in my son. I wanted to challenge and encourage him. I tried to remember to be grateful to God for who my son is and not chase some silly fantasy of who I wanted him to be. Was my ideal image in the way? Yes, perhaps it was now and then (let’s face facts--most 40 year-old men wouldn’t meet that ideal; it was silly to expect it in a child of ten).
It is important not to get vision and fantasy mixed. I have learned how to give up what I can’t keep, or never really had, so that I can enjoy what I have been given. An ideal fantasy and vision often look and feel the same. Both consist of mental pictures or images of good ideals--except one is a projection of my own ego, and the other is the product of humble pondering. How can we tell the difference? There is no sure way. We all stumble through, making mistakes along the way. (1996 D. Hansen, Leadership) When I think of what I want my son to grow into I am seeing the image of a mature Christian man: dedicated to God, with a heart for ministry, intelligent with a love of learning, sensitive to the needs of others, a healthy sense of self-worth. A man who is comfortable with himself: whether the work is laboring in the fields or leading some huge organization. What part of this is a vision of the character traits I can encourage and help develop in my son and what part of the image is envy or a fantasy of my ego? Envy is when I see traits in someone else’s child and wish my child were like that. Envy is common among parents. I have to remember that this child is entrusted to my care for a short period of time; ultimately God decides what happens to him. When my fantasy image does not work, I can begin to doubt my ability to parent at all, as if I got myself into this and God is not around. When I realize that God is my source, I can relax in the simple principles of parenting: love him, communicate with him, have fun with him, teach him the Word of God, and pray for him. Whenever I find myself disappointed, when something does not meet my expectations, I stop and look; was my expectation a part of the vision or a fantasy?
An ideal fantasy image works only in a perfect fantasy world; a vision works in an ordinary, unpredictable world. A fantasy image can fit perfectly into my own well-constructed daydreams. Vision never comes with all the answers. Vision is, by definition, seeing something beyond the present possibilities, so it never seems as if it’s going to work, but vision works even in my fractured life and that of my son. An ideal fantasy emerges from an egocentric, self-established image of parenting; a vision emerges from thoughtful, loving prayer. The ideal image of the fantasy child can become a standard to fail against; a vision for my child can become a positive goal to aim for. If I become lost in the fantasy of the child of my dreams, I can miss the blessing of the child I have.
©2005 by Faith Winters Published on www.faithwinters.com