I’ll go out on a limb here and say for most of us, being a parent is, quite literally, the hardest job we’ve ever had or ever will. And, at the same time, it’s the richest, most fulfilling, most rewarding contribution to our own lives and always will be.
One of the most surprising aspects of parenthood’s lifelong journey is finding out that one split second is all it takes for you to come to know the best and worst of being a parent…the span of that second is the distance between loving another being so much it hurts, to wishing you’d gotten a dog instead! True dat 🙂
But in looking at this most difficult / most rewarding dichotomy, it’s not so hard to understand when you consider first, our tendency to place the highest value on that which was hardest won, and second, our amazing capacity for forgiveness (as parents at least).
But what is it that takes parents to the depths of the difficult to the heights of reward when it comes to loving our children? How do we survive the splintering of our brains in a thousand directions trying to figure them out, yet tarnishes the love in our hearts never?
I don’t question the reward; I think it’s obvious. I do, however, ponder the difficult. Is it because we love too much? Is it that even possible?
I don’t believe so…
However, could it be that we love too much for too long? Is that it? Does parental love need to be doled out in stages or degrees? Or fit into categories in order to not overload these little overlords once they come into their own?
So what (you ask) are these stages/degrees/categories you ask?
I’m a little cuss who can’t (and don’t want to) function without you so love me, love me more, love me most!
I’m a teenager so love me lots, and with patience, but for God’s sake, don’t let my friends see it!
I’m a young adult now so love me from a distance, but not too far ’cause I may need the car!
I’ve met someone and we’re going to get married. Can ya help, can ya pay, can we have it there? (ps Mom and Dad…you’re gonna love him/her!)
I’m going to have a baby so love me, love me most, and love me now ’cause we’re going to need babysitters! (ps Mom and Dad…you’re gonna love it!)
Mom? Dad? I’ve never felt this way before…I love this kid so much my heart hurts!
(ps honey…we know!)
And so on…..
The short answer to the too much / too long question is…yes, okay, maybe, a little bit. But we parents come to this conclusion naturally I think. We instinctively know (or learn soon enough if our instincts are not as honed as they will be), which stage or category we’re dealing with or which degree of parental love to douse them with, simply by living it. Organic knowledge. We just have to choose to go with it.
Does that stop us from loving the same soul-deep way we did when they were newborn?
No. Perhaps it does in theirs though. For a time.
I know that they love us the same way we do them…in the beginning. Outside of themselves, we are their world. Their universe. Their moon and their stars, and they are ours.
Parents and kids grow up together. That’s a given. No matter if you’re 18 or 45 when you have your children, you have to grow up with them to be able to give and receive all that these little selves need, and later, need to share.
We may grow up more with our first. Then again, it may just be that we grow up differently with the next one or two or three.
But…if we’ve played our hands well, we are love. All of it. Every stage, every degree, every category is of the love, by the love, for the love. And they are right there with us.
Completely (in the beginning)
Mostly (in the middle)
Until (still in the middle but getting further towards the…the…well shit…not the end, but you know what I mean right?)
Until…they find out there are more people to love and to be loved by; more stars to shine the light of love on their heads and in their hearts; more room in their world for other loves.
As it has always been. As it was with our own parents to be sure. Just another way of experiencing the circle of life.
Our children are loved as only a child can be loved and they in turn, love as only a child can love. The universe is secure.
As time goes on, they thrive and grow in that forever, universe-spanning, parental love and love them right back. But as they continue to grow, they s l o w l y recognize that their world is expanding to include the many, many different kinds of love; each addition a glimmering star to their universe thus far.
But their recognition is as single-minded as their love for us was in the beginning. When they venture out from underneath the love-cloaked expanse of their parental universe, they don’t at once realize that their hearts are big enough to add new loves without setting aside old ones.
Our time will come again (usually around the time the grand-kids show up!), but as parents, it’s only natural that we do feel the initial loss of that connection when our love is no longer the moon and the stars in our child’s heart.
Facing this fact head-on is hard, but absolutely necessary.
For our own well-being as well as theirs.
If we don’t, we run the risk of pushing them further out into the expanse by clinging too close, depending too much on their always being there, pining away for their childhood days when they aren’t there, regretting what we didn’t do, or forgetting what we did. Even romanticizing the harder times and not counting our blessings.
We all can probably think of a parent in our experience who has done, or does, this. Think back to the last time you witnessed a parent who cannot let go and re-live what you felt. It’s a very uncomfortable feeling.
I’m certainly not completely innocent of it still. I sometimes catch myself feeling guilty for not being ‘that mother’. The one who always can, always will, never says no, never says can’t. Who wouldn’t want to be considered ‘the perfect mom’? But that’s not perfection. It’s limiting to both your life and those of your children.
However, even knowing I am not (and never could be) that mother…(nor is their Dad ‘that guy’) it nevertheless hurts (and in the dark of night, makes me wonder if they’ll still love me enough to ask again- I know, just silly ) to know that we are the ones disappointing our children.
But we get over it because we know we are good parents who have raised good people. We all deal with disappointments in our relationships. We have difficult conversations followed by deafening silences. But we’ve loved each other long enough and well enough to know what’s really important.
So there is hope. Once we’ve matured enough in our parenthood to realize this fact of life, we can recapture that sense of oneness, specialness, absolute love not felt anywhere but in your parents’ heart of hearts. It is, after all, our hearts that need to make preparations for the day when our children learn there is a love flow-chart. This will fluctuate during their life spans, but it will always show a solid heart-red line for us. Mom and Dad. Steady as she goes. What more could we hope for?
And an added benefit to this stage of parental maturity is…we can (and hopefully do) look back at our own parents with a new appreciation for all they’ve done, all they’ve been through, and all we’ve learned from them without even knowing it. Score!
Cheers and happy parenting (and I mean that!)