Being a parent is such an incredible experience that it is hard to remember not being a parent even after only a few weeks of being one. The responsibility is great. To have a newborn so dependent on you is on the one hand very gratifying and fulfilling and on the other hand very scary.
I came across a quote by Richard Carlson, the author of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. Mr. Carlson says, “We are given the opportunity to be responsible for children for a relatively short period in their lives, to guide them until they are ready to find themselves”.
This quote speaks of the dilemma parents face in loving, caring, and protecting their child, at the same time giving up control, letting them grow, and allowing them to become themselves. How we do this over time is a very personal part of parenting that cannot be taught. It must be lived and experienced. Facing this conflict is one all parents must do whether we get blind sided by it or face it openly.
When we become parents we get lulled into the idea that we control so much. We are satisfied by feeding our child and hearing satisfied burps coming from him or her. He falls asleep on our chest and we feel the awe of having our child sense the security of our arms. It takes some time, many months, for us to see a personality in our child. Then we see our child’s desire to call some shots. At some point we turn against our child’s will by saying “No, I can’t let you do that”. We see the resistance the child puts up when their will is crossed. We watch further as we see their will develop into interests, and their interests eventually into who they are. We help by promoting their interests while continuing to say “No” to some of their desires. We strive to balance discipline and permissiveness. We recognize their skills, sometimes before they do. Sometimes we don’t see it until long after they have been using it. We worry. We have fears for them that they don’t see and don’t want to hear about. We give them attention; they take some control. We try to stay out of some parenting traps and dig our way out when we fall into them. We lift them up when they have fallen. We recognize their emotional outbursts and help them through them. We listen to their dreams, realistic and far-fetched. We acknowledge their successes (hopefully as theirs and not ours) and we feel their pain in their failures.
It doesn’t end. Parenting continues for life and beyond. (Even if our child happens to die before we do, we continue to think of them as our child). Without a doubt, parenting is the hardest job we will ever have. Few of us succeed at it without the support of others. It takes faith in ourselves as parents. It takes faith in them as individuals. We need to have courage to allow them the space to become themselves. As Jack Kornberg says in his book, The Art of Forgiveness, Loving, Kindness and Peace, “Peace requires us to surrender our illusions of control. We can love and care for others but we cannot possess our children, lovers, family or friends. We can assist them, pray for them, and wish them well, yet in the end their happiness and suffering depend on their thoughts and actions, not on our wishes.” And so it becomes very important for parents to learn what we have control over and what our children have responsibility for. That quest defines the short term and long term aspects of each parent’s journey.