Interesting title for a post, right? Makes you wonder what this week’s essay might be about.
Spoiler Alert: The post has nothing at all to do with writing…
Parenting is hard. It’s hard when our children are newborns, and we’re operating on three hours of sleep, feeding and changing diapers with mind-numbing regularity. It’s hard when they’re toddlers, and we find ourselves trying to reason with tiny beings who are willful and eager for any form of independence, but not yet ready to face the world without guidance and protection. It’s hard then they’re adolescents, and they are ready to push us away, but still figuring out the nuances of adult life and their place in it. And it’s hard when they’re grown, and we still want to protect them and nurture them even though that’s not really our role anymore.
I love my daughters more than I can say, and I want — have always wanted — desperately to do the right thing. Always. But there’s this huge complicating factor in being a parent: We’re human. We are flawed. We make mistakes. We say foolish things or lose our temper at inappropriate times or allow our own tensions and worries and problems to interfere with the relationships that mean more to us than any others.
A friend of mine from college, who had her first child several years before Nancy and I had our first, once said to me, “Parenting is an exercise in letting go.” That’s gold, right there. Wisdom distilled to its very essence.
Yes, parenting is indeed an exercise in letting go. It’s knowing when to let that toddler wander a bit, and when to rein her in. It’s knowing when to push the pre-teen or teen to open up, to talk to us and let us in so that we can help, and when to leave it to her to work out her own issues, her own life. It’s knowing how to be a friend to our adult children rather than Mom or Dad.
I would add that parenting is also a constant quest for recalibration. What worked yesterday won’t necessarily work today, and today’s answer doesn’t have much of a shelf life either. From the moment they’re born, our children are growing, developing, becoming more and more themselves and less and less reflections of us. To borrow a cliché, change is the only constant.
We try not to burden them with expectations, though that’s hard at times. We certainly don’t want to turn them into mini-me. We want them to be their own people, to develop interests and talents. We love their quirks, their originality.
Because here’s another thing about parenting: It’s wondrous. It is a voyage of near-constant discovery. Hard though it is, it’s also so very much fun. Our children make us laugh, they amaze and astonish, they give joy and pride and, yes, entertainment, repaying us ten-fold for what we have given them. For every difficult moment, there are twenty great ones. It doesn’t always feel that way, and in the depths of the hardest times, it can be difficult to remember, or anticipate, the good. But I can tell you that from the most trying moments of parenting have come some of my deepest connections with my children.
Which brings us to the third thing about parenting: It is the most creative endeavor I have ever attempted. And I spend a lot of time on creative endeavors. It is yet another cliché to refer to child-rearing as an act of creation. But that’s not what I mean. I’m talking about creativity, about problem-solving, about thinking on our feet and innovating — emotionally, logistically, temporally, culinarily… You name it, at some point we’ll have created it.
I started this post in a moment of reflection on a parenting moment that I probably didn’t handle as well as I should have. Even now, after twenty-five years of being a Dad, I still get it wrong nearly as often as I get it right. But writing this has helped me remember that mistakes are part of the process, that getting things wrong — on both sides of the relationship — often lead to conversations that make things better. And that if we’ve gotten the important things right from the outset, the underlying love endures and strengthens despite our flawed humanity.
Wishing you a great week.