Raise the child you have, not the child you want

Written by Kari Kampakis
Published on November 02, 2021

I have a friend who learned her daughter had cancer after her visit to the pediatrician when she was 2-years-old. Her blood work was off, and this led to testing and a diagnosis. 

Her daughter is doing fantastic now and has been in remission for years. What’s always stuck with me, however, was a realization my friend had shortly after learning about the cancer. 

She told me when her daughter was a toddler, her spirit, spunk, and strong personality could drive her up the wall. She wanted her to be calm and easy. But after the diagnosis, she realized God made her tough for a reason. 

He gave her daughter a special armor on purpose, because she’d need that armor to handle the grueling and aggressive treatments used to fight cancer at a remarkably young age. 

Dreaming of our kids’ futures

I think of this story as I raise my kids and watch other kids grow up. Like most parents, I came into parenting with preconceived notions. I projected into the future and fantasized about who my kids might become and how blindingly perfect they’d be. 

In some ways, I envisioned them as my second chance. I secretly hoped that they’d be like me, only smarter and more talented, so I could be their mentor and put my life experiences to good use. 

But guess what? No daughter is just like me, and that is a great thing. My girls are authentic and wired uniquely, and while I certainly relate to their personalities and see myself in them all the time, I also recognize enough differences to understand how their lives are not my do-over. 

Forcing my dreams on them would never work because their destinies are different from mine. When I think about the qualities I admire most, it’s typically those qualities that I don’t possess or wish I had more of. 

I once heard advice to “Raise the child you have, not the child you want.” It hit me hard because in that season of parenting little ones, I was trying to mold my children into the visions in my head. I failed to consider their God-ordained bent, the part of them I couldn’t change even if I wanted to. 

Their inherent design

Clearly, we parents are responsible for helping our children grow. We’re called to correct poor behavior, maximize strengths, minimize weaknesses, model morality, and mold them into responsible citizens. But if we want our children to discover their best lives—filled with purpose, hope, and passion—we have to respect their inherent design. 

This means training them in a direction that allows them to be true to who God made them to be. God made no mistakes in creating my kids and yours. He created each child with great attention and intention. 

None of us know yet how God will use our kids, or what he may be equipping them for in the future. A trait that seems like a frustrating flaw might be a lifesaver in some situations. A trial that feels like a burden may turn out to be a blessing when all is said and done. 

A strong-willed girl who isn’t afraid of standing up for what she believes, for instance, may be exactly what her college peers need when an injustice arises, and they need a brave leader to take charge. 

A sensitive boy who barely speaks may become a prolific artist who eloquently expresses those deep human emotions that help people connect and feel less alone. A girl who doesn’t make the basketball team five years in a row may become a rock-star entrepreneur who later credits her failures in helping her develop the fortitude she’d need to go the distance. 

And a boy with a learning disability may develop an unbelievable work ethic that makes him try harder than everyone, never give up on himself, and ultimately reach a position of influence where he can help other kids who struggle. 

The point is, there is no “one right way” a child should be. God creates every child for a unique mission, and only time will tell what that mission is. 

Leave room for God to work

Good parenting is largely about preparing our kids for their mission. It requires letting go of our fantasies, becoming a student of our children (seeing each one is a “mystery box” to be discovered), and trusting God as their authority, choosing to work with his plan rather than against it. It takes every personality under the sun to make the world go ‘round. 

We need kids who are gentle, passionate, quiet, spunky, fearless, driven, outspoken, observant, funny, practical, reserved, and bold. We need social butterflies, bookworms, worker bees, early birds, night owls, steel magnolias, and firecrackers. 

We need survivors, old souls, free spirits, athletes, tough cookies, geniuses, and late bloomers. And despite any differences among kids, there’s one term that always applies: world-changer. 

Every child is meant to be a world changer. And every child deserves the right to be who they are, not who others want them to be. It’s a pivotal moment when we can celebrate our kids’ personalities without wishing for them to change. Whether this comes immediately or after an epiphany like my friend had, it’s where real growth begins. 

Letting our children be themselves makes them happier and us happier, too. It leaves room for God to work and surprise us as we watch his plan unfold and understand how his design for them plays into the bigger story.

Consider a few extra resources:

When you wish it were different: A special needs mama reflects on the joy and the uncertainty

How to thrive as the parent of a sensitive teenager

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Kari Kampakis

Kari Kampakis is a bestselling author, blogger, and national speaker from Birmingham, Alabama. Her bestselling books for moms, More Than a Mom: How Prioritizing Your Wellness Helps You (and Your Family) Thrive and Love Her Well: 10 Ways to Find Joy and Connection with Your Teenage Daughter, and books for teen girls, Liked and 10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know and Liked: Whose Approval Are You Living For, have been used widely across the country for small groups studies. Kari’s work has been featured on Focus on the Family, the Today show, Today Parents, Yahoo! News, Grown & Flown, Thrive Global, Your Teen, For Every Mom, Motherly, FaithGateway, EWTN, Jesus Calling, Ann Voskamp’s blog, The Huffington Post, and other national outlets. She also hosts the Girl Mom podcast. Kari and her husband, Harry, have four daughters and a dog named Lola. Learn more by visiting www.karikampakis.com or finding Kari on Instagram and Facebook.

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