It was not the easiest thing in the world to be a twenty-four-year-old mother. The day he was born, I ceased being young. I was now a grownup. All the attention moved to him. It seemed natural and unnatural at the same time. Why was it so easy for everyone to assume I did not need the same love and care they gave me the moment before he opened his beautiful black eyes?
I never understood. What I did understand was that this precious little being who never napped without a Hot Wheels in his hand was mine. He was mine to love, protect, and cherish. I wanted everything in the world—the best of everything—for him. And so, I cared for him the best way I knew, ensuring no one would ever fault me. I loved him, and every action stemmed from love.
In every area of life, I pushed him toward performance, achievement, and what I construed as success. As an immigrant parent, I was doing it right. But no one told me I was forgetting to delight in him. As a parent (and an immigrant one at that), you get caught up in duty, trying to give your child the best. And when that desire for achievement blinds you, you miss out on the journey. You get lost.
In the months leading up to high school graduation, I found a home video of my son practicing piano for recital week. His piece was technically perfect but lacked musicality. His tear-stained face showed his frustration. That was my parenting. He had to get it right because I had to get it right.
Excellence over Delight
As the years went by, he grew up. He stood nearly head and shoulders above me. The long, skinny limbs had given way to a lean, wiry frame. His bright eyes were still beautiful but no longer held innocence; instead, he viewed the world with suspicion and cynicism. He still longed to please those around him and strived for acceptance. And I knew that was my doing.
He pushed himself in areas where he was strong, like music, and excelled. He knew I appreciated his excellence. He handled the rigor of the schedule I maintained for him because he knew how much I valued his accomplishments. As far as I was concerned, I was giving him every opportunity I didn’t have. But he was simply proving his capacity so that I would back off. His lack of trust in me as a parent was evident.
I was no longer his hero. I could not kiss away the pain and stress of academics, the pressure of the world, and striving to please everyone around him.
I remember him sitting on the floor one night crying, telling me he hated me, how he hated the world and everyone in it. He had failed another test—one that cost him his All-State Choir Concert and cost me the chance to brag about him. He already felt the pain of the loss, but I pressed it deeper. So, he told me he hated me.
He hated the pain I had caused him, his days of struggle in school, desperately seeking validation in every area of his life, desperately seeking to be seen, known, and loved—not being able to understand why his mother, who once was always there for him, now seemed against him.
I should have been comforting him; instead, I had been dragging him to tutoring sessions for Algebra while forcing him to practice piano and be at school by seven in the morning for choir. I made him take the school bus instead of letting him use a car. “To build character,” I thought. I was convinced he needed tough love.
I thought everyone else’s child was perfect: perfect grades, college acceptance letters, and my Facebook feed was filled with happy pictures. So why did my son frown all the time? Couldn’t he just get it together? I had sacrificed so much for him. But it was a stream of failure.
All I could see was my desires for him, anger at everything I had tried for years to give him, and how he tossed it aside without a care. I could not see his pain or the profound anxiety my desires had caused. I allowed my child’s success to validate me as a parent. I excelled at parenting when he achieved great things. It meant I was getting it right . . . right?
That night my knees hit the floor, and my tears soaked the bedspread. I remember scrawling words of pain in my tear-stained journal. I beat my hands against my breast, asking God if he was even there. Was God in this home? Did he even care about what I was going through? Did he care about my son’s failure? Did he care about how it affected me? Wasn’t I the perfect mother? Were all my years of hard work for nothing? Did I strive for nothing?
That day, I knew I did not want to continue down the road I had been on. Not if it was going to destroy my relationship with my son. Not if it was going to destroy me. I knew I had to cling to a God who, in the moment, seemed silent. I knew he was there. It was hard to feel him, but he was all I had.
Released to the Father’s Care
I had reached a point where all I could do as a follower of Christ was surrender. I no longer had any control over myself, over my son, over anything. Of course, I probably never did, but now I knew it to be true. It was humbling to know how little I controlled my life, despite thinking I could work out every moment and circumstance in life my way.
It was also, in many ways, freeing to surrender. In my head, I stopped worrying. It was not magic. I had to discipline my brain by thanking God for how he created my son. Thanking him for his wonderful personality, sensitivity, creativity, and the way he loved God and people. It was not an overnight transformation, but the more I thanked God, the more my heart aligned with God’s will for my child. It felt strange, and I felt lighter. I was afraid. I did not know what the future held for my boy, but I started to rest in the one who held his future.
On a cold morning in January 2021, the doorbell rang nonstop. Our son had rushed home from school in the middle of the day without permission to show his father and me his acceptance into college. It would be the first of many in the months to come. But seeing his face light up in excitement and hearing him repeat, “I got in! I got in!” revealed the stress level he had been under. He honestly did not believe he would go to college, and I think, on some level, I didn’t either.
At that moment, I realized how selfish I had been. From the moment they laid my infant son in my arms, I had convinced myself I was in charge. I had forgotten the God who had walked alongside me and held my son too.
I had to stop being a control freak and remind my son of his faithful God. So, I went back to what I knew best: preaching to myself. Counting my blessings for good education, reminding my son to trust God. Sticking notes on his mirror, sending him voice texts of prayer, reading liturgies to him, and reminding myself that God had a better plan for my child than I ever would. Surrendering my will was the hardest thing to do; surrendering it daily is now my liturgy.
But over the last six years, something shifted in both my son’s heart and mine. Today he is twenty, and in every opportunity that comes his way, he testifies to God’s faithfulness. I could never have imagined that those years of pain and struggle would shape him into the man he is today.
That twenty-four-year-old mother dreamed of her son succeeding academically and receiving worldly praise and adulation. As long as he got good grades and got into the right schools, everything in life would turn out okay. His academic accomplishments and prowess were what mattered in her world.
Some might say I did my best with what I knew, and they might be correct. But I had an idea in my head from the moment my son was born, and with or without my awareness, I spent years following the masses—the culture I knew—doing what my world expected of me.
But God had other plans for my son and me. In allowing us both to taste failure, God taught this mother and her child to depend on him for everything. Apart from him, they could both do nothing. I never envisioned my son’s love for God and people; it was an answer to unasked prayer.
I have learned that in my frailty, God is faithful. As humans, we crave control and often do an excellent job of masking it as “doing the right things” or “doing our duty.” Our culture even encourages it. But giving up control takes faith in a God who has promised to meet our needs—faith in surrendering to him completely. The surrender of our will has got to be the hardest thing in this life. But we will miss out on the experience of trusting him and the feeling of sweet surrender when we desperately hold onto control.
Cover image by Yanna Zissiadou.