Being a parent is a lesson in love and in life. Too often we get caught up in the work and responsibility of parenting and don’t realize the benefits that come with the job. In raising children, we have the opportunity to become a better human being and to learn what is really important about life.
While there is a lot of work, worry, and pain in raising children there are also times of great joy and deep satisfaction. If you allow your children to be your teachers, you grow up psychologically as you learn from them and with them. When another life depends on you, you realize that your life is not the only important thing. In assuming the tremendous responsibility of caring for a totally dependent human being, you must move past your own self-centred needs to consider the needs of your child.
The demands of raising children are immediate and relentless. As a parent, you must care for your child when you are sick, when you are tired, or when you’d rather be doing something else. Even when it seems to be an impossible task, you get up in the morning and you put your feet on the floor and you do what needs to be done to take care of your child. You discover the depth of your own character and your profound strength as you continually meet the physical and emotional needs of your child.
The daily responsibilities of raising a child push you to the limits of your emotional experience and challenge you in numerous ways to mature as a human being. It’s kind of like blowing up a paper bag. As the air fills the bag, all of the little wrinkles and corners become filled out. In ongoing encounters with your child, you experience the full range of every emotion. You come face to face with the best and the worst of yourself and with everything in between. If you are doing your job well, you gradually succeed in finding ways to manage the extremes of your emotions instead of allowing them to control you. You learn about yourself and this learning leads you to greater compassion and humility. You let go of your illusions about yourself and about life, and you come to terms with the strength and the frailty of human nature.
When you make mistakes, your child will forgive your failures as a parent and as a human being. You will experience the power of the unconditional love that can exist between parent and child. You come to realize that regardless of what happens between you and your child, nothing can touch the love you have for them. You know that you will love your child no matter what he or she does, and that it is a love that transcends ordinary life. Once you experience this unconditional love, you can extend your love beyond your children to the world around you. Through the gift of this love, you gradually begin to understand the source of a meaningful and well-lived life.
Being a parent teaches you to become flexible. If you are to live harmoniously with other people, you must learn to soften and to bend your position. You discover that there is no absolute truth, no “right” way, and no need to force your way onto others. You learn that it’s not necessary to make such a big deal about your own importance and how everything must be just so in order for you to be happy. When it comes to happiness, you realize that the quality of your relationship with your child has a higher priority than your own ego or the details of life.
You also learn to be patient. In daily interactions with your child, you come to understand that a child is a work in progress. As you notice your own growth as a parent, you will see that you are also a work in progress. You consciously become the artist of your own life.
Being a parent makes you very aware of the cycle of life. In creating a child, you actively participate in the cycle of life that began and has continued for millions of years. You have been born, you will live, and you will die. When you bring a child into the world, you bring forth the next generation. You will replace your parents and your child will replace you in this ongoing cycle. You see that your life is a series of moments, these moments are fleeting, and you learn to enjoy and live in the present.
If you are paying attention, you soon learn that your child is your mirror. If you don’t like some aspect of your child’s behaviour, look in the mirror. Children model what they see or experience; they don’t necessarily do what they are told. It is very likely that your child is reflecting some aspect of your way of behaving or relating to others.
Being a parent is to be in position of leadership. While you have the responsibilities of direction and guidance, the dynamic of the relationship is interactive. Parent and child have a great deal to give to each other and to teach each other. As a leader, you demonstrate the openness to mutual learning and to giving and receiving that is vital to personal growth and to a healthy relationship.
There is a great paradox in parenting. You realize that just as you start to feel competent at doing this task, the bulk of your work as a parent is coming to an end. Your children are stepping out into the world and beginning their own adult life. If you have done your work well, you will be gratified to see your children take the benefit of your love and learning with them.
Shirley Vandersteen, Ph. D., R. Psych.