I remember how it felt when I used to see them. I was 22 years old, and there were so many of them. Everywhere. The couples. The girl hanging on to the guy's arm, effortlessly posed and comfortable. It was almost like an advertisement - advertising a product. Advertising a significant other - a man. A man whose strong arm I could link into mine, whose outfits would be stylish and casual, and who’d bump up my social status anytime we went somewhere together.
Simply having a man next to me would make me look good. It would show the world that I'd been chosen, that I'd been deemed pretty and worth pursuing, that I'd been someone's crush - or at least caught someone's eye.
I could bring my man to weddings, parties, family reunions, and nights out. I could bring him to work events, hang-outs, coffee dates. Having a man would mean having a tag-along to every fun gathering, and any event that had the potential to make me feel awkward. I’d merely have to grab on to my man’s arm in a situation like that, and instantly - the awkwardness, the nervousness, the feeling alone in a crowd and judged for it - would vanish.
Babies: they look adorable swung on the hips of mothers. They can make a woman look good, just like a man can. You can dress them in whatever your heart desires, make them look like dolls, and tote them along wherever you go, like a cute little accessory. Women who want, but don't yet have babies can see them as an endless opportunity to show the world your style and personality. Of course that's not the only thing you're going to do with your baby, but it's easy to brush aside the real weight of responsibility that being a parent requires while you dream of having your own little real-life doll.
We see the pretty moms with their little bundles wrapped in slings, and want that for our life. We dream of meeting up with a friend for coffee and bringing our adorable accessory along to sit on our laps or play at our feet while we chat. We picture having our baby to hide behind at gatherings where we don't know anyone, so we don't feel awkward standing around. We can forget that baby's behavior is going to be pretty unpredictable, and things likely won't be that perfect.
Nothing is wrong with these desires, but when we view our babies in this way, we can ignore the fact that they are not just extensions of ourselves, for our benefit. They have their own lives, and will live their own stories, and we have been chosen to play a part in their story. Of course we know these things, but we can easily forget, especially when we don't yet have children, and want them. We can ignore the amount of work and sacrifice parenting actually is, and how it's not that easy to just swing that baby up onto your hip and look amazing.
When I think back to the ideas of dating, marriage, and motherhood I had in my early twenties, I realize how immature and shallow they were. Of course I desired the real thing: a serious, committed relationship and family. But I was missing the balance.
I desired that arm I could link into mine, like tossing a handbag over my shoulder. I desired those cute photos of that face kissing my cheek, like a coat of red lipstick that would instantly enhance my photos. I desired that chubby little smiling face peeking out from that pretty sling I wore.
Yet, I needed a healthy balance between those shallow desires and my desire for the real thing: real relationships with human beings who had their own hearts, souls, and stories.
My people are not my accessories.
It sounds obvious - of course no one actually sees their child or significant other as an it, putting human beings on the same level as scarves, purses, shoes, or lipstick.
But if we look a little further, I think it's much easier than we realize to elevate that mindset in our relationships. We really like the idea that we can get ready for a special event, or even just a public outing, and throw on a guy or a baby like we do a pair of shoes. Because cute shoes will make us look good, but a guy or a baby will really make us look good.
It's easier than we think to forget that we have a responsibility to lift up and care for their hearts at all times.
It can be easy for women to do this, because a lot of women have a tendency to evaluate ourselves based on the people and relationships we have, rather than our titles or what we do.
As girlfriends, wives, and mothers, we have a responsibility to make sure we are caring for the hearts of the people in our lives - knowing how they are really doing and feeling, what they may be struggling with, and even just how their day is going.
If we’re not careful, we can push the hard work of relationships to the side. We can start viewing them as an addition to us, something to enhance our image. We can throw the intention and investment they require onto the back burner.
If we’re not careful, we can want people for selfish reasons - to benefit us. To make us feel good about ourselves.
But they are not put into our lives for these purposes. We are gifted with an incredible responsibility to steward and cherish God's most valuable gifts. They are given to us to serve, bless, and love. They are real lives with real stories, entrusted to us that we may care for and honor them. We are their spouse, their mother, to build them up and send them soaring into their destinies.
It's about God's plans and dreams for the people he's given us, not about us. And when we grasp and take hold of that truth, we'll find they return the favor.
They send us soaring, too.