Before I became a parent, I had an image in my head of what my children would be like one day. They’d wear cute matching, preppy outfits and have adorably styled hair at all times. They’d of course love music, and start piano lessons no later than age 4. I’d never give in to letting them wear clothes branded with cartoon characters, and I’d certainly never let them leave the house in totally mismatched outfits with those hideous plastic Crocs on their feet. My children would only play with creative toys that stimulate mental growth, and they would eschew all things violent. I was quite sure of all these things.

Eight years ago this month, I got my first positive pregnancy test and so began this dream of my “someday children”. In that eight years, I’ve started realizing that the kids I have aren’t necessarily the kids I’d imagined. This is not a bad thing at all; the kids I have are fantastic, creative, caring, wonderful people. In fact, the kids I have are way cooler than the imaginary kids that lived in my head. However, I’ve had a strangely hard time letting go of some of my preconceived notions of what they’d be. My older son loves crafts, martial arts, and all things tie-dyed. He has a fantastic sense of humor and is incredibly kind and caring. My younger son is a super-hero enthusiast. He is feisty, athletic, and very snuggly. Neither of them has perfectly styled hair for more than 30 seconds per day (on a good day). Neither of them wants anything to do with piano lessons. Both of them adore their bright, tacky Crocs and wear them all spring and summer.

My sons have taught me many things, but perhaps the most important is to see people not as I want them to be, but as they are, and to happily accept them without expecting them to change. I expended way too much energy in my early years of parenting trying to fit my kids into the mold of what I imagined they’d be. While both nature and nurture are certainly at work in parenting, I’ve learned to respect the “nature” side of things more and stop trying to steamroll it with the “nurture” side. I’m putting more energy into letting them show me who they are and much less into trying to dictate who they are. And most importantly, I’m spending less time imagining my future for them, and more time listening to them tell me about their own plans.