I never had any intention of being a parent, for good reasons. One of which is that it is very hard. I want to also point out that it is very, very hard. A third, yet related reason is that it is extremely difficult. I truly don’t think I was meant to be a parent, but my thoughts on the matter are a moot point now.
When my first child was born, he and I were both clueless. I held a genuine tabula rasa. The first few years were magical, staring down at a truly blank slate. There was magic in witnessing this child soak in observations, make correlations, find delight and sorrow. That innocence humbled me, connected me to humanity, taught me unconditional love.
I used to think parenting was hard when we were potty training, or learning to ride bikes, or learning Common Core math. I’ve come to understand perspective is everything. That was just batting practice. This, this right now is what really matters. This is the hard stuff.
As the children grew older, their worlds expanded. From home, to playdates, to preschool, to elementary school. To recreational soccer, to ice skating lessons, to horseback riding lessons. To the movies, to the mall, to sleep-overs.
Along the way, they met people, made friends, learned things. Our little ones, they’re sponges. Their blank slates get filled with each of these interactions. Along the way, they not only pick up athletic skills and new words, they pick up all of humanity. Like it or not, society, family, and friends raise human beings.
They soak up how you cope with a bad day at work. They soak up how you deal with a friend who has betrayed you. They soak up how you don’t notify the cashier that you’ve been given too much change. They soak up how easily frustrated and overwhelmed you get. They soak up how you talk about your mother-in-law.
They soak up how you don’t challenge the friend who told a joke about kids with autism. They soak up how you scream at the tailgater. They soak up how you don’t make eye contact with the homeless man on the corner. They soak up how you allow others to make jokes about you at your expense. They soak up how you take care of everyone else but yourself.
They soak up how movies tell you falling in love is everything, and getting married is the end goal because the movie ends there with soaring music and a sunset. They soak up how reality shows and Instagram tell you what sexy looks like, what popular looks like, what success looks like, what they should look like. They soak up how how awkward kids get treated.
Every moment, every day, they take all these in. And as a parent, you have little control over that. As a parent, you have no control over how they process all that data, how they perceive all that information, how they incorporate it into their world views, belief systems, and sense of self.
As a parent, you can have the uncomfortable conversations about sex and relationships and self-image. As a parent, you can have the conversations about kindness and supporting the underdog and compassion. As a parent, you can model all this appropriate behavior.
But the sponges have soaked in all this stuff that you can’t wring out of them–all these images and beliefs and thoughts and behaviors that you can’t wipe clean from their minds. It is this juncture that is hard. It is this place as a parent where you can’t scream and throw a fit when, not if, your child makes decisions that harm him/herself, behaves in ways that you know you’ve discussed a thousandgazillionbazillion times before, when your child should know better.
Because you know your child is a good child. But good children get confused, or get curious, or get really down on him/herself. Because your child is human. Because life is complicated. Because we all make mistakes. Because some days are better than others.
The hard part is in the sitting and watching, waiting for life to unfold as it will. Waiting, hoping, that this sponge soaked up all the good stuff too, and will sort it all out. Soon. The hard part is in the delicate balance of letting go and holding on. The hard part is bearing witness to all the good and bad and unknown, while not holding on too tightly. Sitting, Waiting, Wishing, like Jack Johnson does so well.
The hard part is providing the space for your child to make mistakes and not rescuing him/her so that your child can take ownership in learning from those mistakes. The hard part is not yelling about that mistake or ignoring it so that it can turn into a true teaching moment. The hard part is waiting to see how that lesson takes hold. Or doesn’t take hold. And the only thing you can hold is the knowledge that you have no control over that. And your breath. You can hold your breath.
The hard part is learning to trust yourself, that you provided a good foundation as a parent, that you did the best you could. The hard part is learning to trust your child, that even when he/she makes mistakes or falters, that he/she will figure it out in the end. The hard part is learning to trust that life will unfold in ways you cannot control, and that “in the end” could mean it takes your child years to grow into an adult to finally figure things out. This terrifies me.
The hard part is remembering that this hopeful but fear-filled time of waiting, of just being, as you watch life proceed–this is a gift. A gift of allowing your child to be the author of his/her own story. Of realizing we all make mistakes and we are not defined by these mistakes. The hard part is knowing where they begin and you end, and holding space for them to hurt and heal and grow. It is in this stillness that the healing and growing occur.
What beautiful gifts: one for you, as you write your own story of bearing witness to a life unfolding, and one for your child, to have his/her own byline to his/her own story. What a gift, to write stories where the sky is not falling, to write stories of resilience, self-forgiveness, and self-kindness. What a gift, to show your children that they have the power to introduce the character actors Grace and Lovingkindness into their storylines. This gift-giving: beautiful, hard, brutal, wondrous.