What He’ll Be When He Grows Up

[AUGUST 26, 2015: I’m updating this post from 2011 for this week’s #wholemama link up, which has moved over to Erika Shirk’s blog, Overflow. I love this post and feel it fits so well with this week’s theme, BE.]

By Amanda Cleary Eastep

At 7, my son is in earnest. Gripping the back of the seat as we drive to the grocery store, he asks, “What should I be when I grow up?”

This is not a “why is the sky blue?” kind of question. The almost pleading tone in his voice begs me to answer; not a “well, uh, you see…” kind of answer either. THE answer.

This may be a pivotal moment in my parenting of this being, not really a boy at all, but an Energy in boy form that I must help to channel.

Insurance salesman.



This is the list that began to form in conversations among my family members about this child’s future path. (Three years later my mother bought him the book Super Lawyers for his 10th birthday.)

I’m weighing my answer. It will say something to him about what I think about him. What I believe him to be capable of.

When I’m helping him with math homework, he wonders why I sometimes have to go back a few chapters to review. Don’t I know everything? Now I’m slow to answer again. But it’s not because I don’t have an answer. Some of his gifts are already very evident.

I glance sideways at the small hands gripping the top of the front seat as we drive. I remember those fingers four years earlier curled over the pulpit during my friend’s wedding rehearsal. At 3, my son is hidden behind the wooden lectern. Only his hands are visible, as with a pronounced inflection that makes me wonder if he has been tuning in to the black, Southern preacher early on Sunday mornings, he proclaims “Haaaa—lle—LU—jah!”

“You can be anything you want to be,” I say. This is not an answer.

He offers multiple choice.

Pizza maker.

Toy maker.

Remote control maker.

I decide this is not a hard act to follow but want to acknowledge his selections. “Yes, those are all possibilities,” I assure him. But I’m thinking of his entourage of friends and how we’ve taken to calling him the Pied Piper.

I’m thinking of the way he has of conversing with complete strangers, mostly adults, who look first startled then amused then engaged.

And there are the capes. He has several that he wears around the house and even one for the grocery store. In fact, he has insisted on my wearing one, so I tie a red handkerchief on for our trip to the store.

So if I am the mother of a super hero, I guess that makes him…

A super hero. Will telling him he can be a super hero make him think he can jump off of the roof?

“Use your powers for good,” I tell him. (Not for the last time.)

Over the years, I have been fervent in encouraging the gifts I see in all three of my children. In truth, I thought even then he would be a leader, but I knew that wouldn’t resonate with him at 7.


Fast forward to the age of 22. He is a theology student and a youth group leader.

The previous year he texts me late one night. “What do you think God is calling me to do?”

I text him a long answer but want to simply say, “You are a leader.” Will telling him he is a leader make him think he can jump off the roof and others will follow?

I don’t have THE answer, just like I didn’t before. At least not the definitive one he’s looking for again. I can only review the past few chapters and tell him again what gifts and talents I recognize and that he should use them for the good of others.

Actually, I don’t believe there is a THE answer, except for maybe d. all of the above. There are many things he can do and will do. To steal advice from former Franciscan priest and writer Brennan Manning, I will tell my son to DO THE NEXT THING IN LOVE.

So, Son, this is always my answer:

If you must jump off of a roof—with or without a cape—do so to save a another.

If you lead, you be led by love first.

If you counsel or preach or make pizzas for a living or for a moment when it is needed or for the purpose of answering “yes” when God calls you to a lifelong task, do all of the above in love.

11 thoughts on “What He’ll Be When He Grows Up

  1. Ok – so having read that it’s like something clicked in my soul. I’m breathing deeper and I’m feeling like I’m in a big ocean of peace. My oldest child is not well, but is also incredibly gifted in so many things, but right now it is really difficult for her to see what might lie ahead. I’m always trying to hold her gently so that she can discover her space and her place and her heart, but sometimes she wants me to tell her what I think. Do the next thing in love. that’s the most brilliant answer. thanks so much for sharing this. I just plan to follow along behind you learning about parenting if that’s ok ? ! x


    1. Oh, my, well my parenting of small ones is done, but you’re never finished guiding and loving them. I’ll have to write more about my failures, the disasters we came through. Holding them gently, as you already know, is not always possible or best. In two weeks, this “boy” gets married and prepares for a career in counseling young people. 🙂 That you found some peace in reading this is a great blessing to me.


    1. Funny how the things I’ve told my kids are resonating with me years later, too. We were still joking last night that he could be a lawyer, but he’s leaning toward counseling teens. It’s interesting to look back now.


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