Profound Parenting

I came across this letter to the editor of Salon (in response to Rebecca Traister’s insightful comments about another letter in the San Francisco Chronicle) as I was browsing blogs. Here, the writer says there are two types of parents: First, those who say parenting changes everything and who look down on childless people; second, those who say parenting is hard work, but claim they are still the same people they have always been.

Well, for me, parenting has changed everything, including the way I see the world. How could it not? Any emotionally resonant event changes you: marriage, puberty, the loss of my grandmother to Alzheimer’s, the two-month-long cross-country trip I took with J where we had ultimate freedom and a car to go with it. Life is about change. It is about those experiences that shape you, strengthen you, test you and bring you joy. It is not about pretending that becoming a parent (or whatever else) hasn’t happened. It is not about pretending that one doesn’t get older and, hopefully, wiser as life goes on. (Though I know that’s a minority view, judging from today’s perpetually youthful culture, but that’s a post for another time.) Adult responsibilities—including, but not limited to, children, home ownership, community involvement, a daily job, volunteering, and caring for elderly family members—change the way you interact with the world. And they allow the world to affect you right back. Nothing wrong with that, and, I’d say, probably a lot right with it.

I was a childless adult for more than ten years. Children sometimes annoyed me, but more often the annoyance came from other adults. So why do some childless people act as if the public sphere is only for people of a certain age? (Lord help them when they get old. If children are only supposed to be seen at Chuck E. Cheese and Gymoboree then are seniors only allowed in retirement homes?) Sure the ‘childless’—there’s got to be a better description for them than this, not all childless people are selfish and mean-spirited—can be loud on their cell phones or take bathroom breaks in the middle of movie love scenes, poking and prodding everyone in their wake, but the presence of a child who wiggles is annoying? (You can read more about intolerance in the book I Hate Other People’s Kids. Also inside, more about parents who need lessons in managing their children. Warning: The author fails in her attempt to be humorous.)

Having a relationship with a child, whether as a parent, a family member or a friend, can be profound. Not because it makes you a better person or a more mature one, but because it makes you want to be better or more mature. It humbles you and opens your heart to spontaneity. (And, yes, it is a lot of hard, sometimes not very interesting, work.) Holding a baby, watching him grow, keeping him safe at all costs is the height of responsibility, but understanding that nothing you do, really, can determine who he will become is a lesson in compromise. And watching your carefully scheduled/organized/planned life take curves and leaps and jumps that you had, before, thought were impossible is a lesson in letting go of pre-conceived notions and finding joy where you least expected it.

Relationships with people of different ages and with those who have different viewpoints are what keep you tolerant. To love someone, to raise someone, or simply to enjoy that person’s company even while disagreeing on fundamentals like faith or politics (or even the role of children in society) is a testament to finding peace when violence would be easier. Kids, who ultimately disagree with you on everything, are not the only way to change your life, just one of the most efficient.


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