By Teal Scott
It is no secret that the relationships we have with our children teach us more than any other relationships we have. When it comes to evolving as a person, nothing provides a steeper learning curve than parenting does.
Much of this is due to the attachment we feel for our children. The love a parent holds for their child is it’s own unique kind of love; you cannot know or learn from that kind of love unless you become a parent. Yet just because we love our child more than anything on earth does not necessarily mean that we love parenting. And disliking parenting does not mean we do not love our child.
Universally, the parent-child relationship was designed to be a relationship of contrast. It is a relationship that is meant to show us what we do not want and thus inspire us towards what we do want. As an infant (even with the best of parents) we still have to deal with the experience of being dependent on someone else. We have to experience being physically out of control of our own well-being. That is not an enjoyable thing to experience for any being. It is contrast, contrast that inspires us to desire autonomy. Staying focused on (and lining-up with) autonomy is what causes our physical structure to age and begin performing autonomous actions like walking and using utensils to feed ourselves.
As parents, we experience a great many things that are not enjoyable to experience. Things like changing diapers, cleaning up throw-up, trying to train them to get along in a society we don’t even like most of the time, being responsible for another person’s physical well being, not being able to go somewhere on a whim at eight o-clock at night because we can’t leave our children at home, and listening to a sesame street song so many times in a row that it is now keeping us awake at night (the list goes on and on).
There is a reason that parents have often felt like once they have children their life is over. It is because when we opt into the role of parenthood, we are opting into all of the lessons that go along with it. We are choosing the fast track. Every time we experience those unenjoyable parts of parenthood, it causes us to give rise to the idea of what we would prefer, both for ourselves and for our children.
For example, when we feel resentment because we have to take care of our children instead of do what we really want to do (like go dancing), we desire our child to be autonomous. Which is a desire that they, themselves share. And our desire for them to achieve autonomy is creating their autonomy. In essence, we co-create the experience of our children physically aging so as to become autonomous.
Childhood isn’t suppose to be purely enjoyable; neither is parenting. If it were purely enjoyable, there would be no expansion born from the experience. There would be no forward movement. You wouldn’t be inspired towards anything. You wouldn’t desire anything new and as a result. You wouldn’t create or become anything new.
As parents, we have been cultured to believe the role of parenting is sacrosanct. We are cultured to believe that if we admit we do not like parenting, we are somehow betraying and abandoning our children. This is not the case. In fact (though there are always exceptions) most people who are parents, don’t actually like parenting. What they love is the connection they have with their children. What they love is those magic moments when their child falls asleep on their chest or takes their first step or enjoys some part of life.
When people say they love parenting, what they actually love is feeling valid. Being responsible for someone’s well-being and being needed makes us feel validated. That is what we actually enjoy, not the actual act of changing a diaper. For people who do not derive their value from being needed, parenting can feel more like torture. But this does not mean we will be terrible parents. It does not mean we made a mistake by becoming a parent. And it does not mean we do not love our children as much as those who are actually validated by their role as parents.
It is human nature to personalize everything. That is why we have a very difficult time differentiating between parenting in general and the actual child we are parenting. While some children are more difficult than others to parent, disliking parenthood has nothing to do with one child or another child. Instead, it is a dislike of the role that we are playing. This differentiation can easily be explained by looking at the example of marriage:You can love a person intensely and still not enjoy marriage in-and-of-itself. When this is the case, it is not because of the person you married, but because there can be some unenjoyable aspects of trying to stay in harmony with another person all the time. After all, for most of us, it is hard enough to stay in harmony with ourselves.
We perpetuate the lie that we all love parenting because we are so afraid of what it means about us as people if we admit we don’t. We fear it makes us a bad person. We’re afraid other people will think we do not love our children, and think we are a bad person because of it. We’re also afraid our children will personalize it and think it is their fault we do not like parenting.
But we suffer when we perpetuate the lie that we all love parenting. We feel intense guilt, we feel as if we do not deserve our children and as if we are somehow defective because we don’t enjoy parenting. And the truth is, it is a rare, rare parent who does not secretively feel the same way. We just don’t want to admit it to each other.
It is ok for those of us that dislike parenting to admit it. We do not have to love parenting in order to love our children, just like our children do not have to like being parented in order to love us. Who does like being told what to do? Who does like being disciplined? Who likes someone else dictating what you will and wont do on any given day? The answer is: no one.
If we admit that we do not like parenting, we are admitting to where we are. We can only move to where we want to be once we have admitted where we are. And we can use what we do not like about parenting to re-define parenting. We can re-design our role in our children’s lives so as to experience much more of what we do love about our relationships with our children.
Just because society has defined what parenting is, doesn’t mean the definition is correct. In fact, much of what we consider to be “good parenting” may not actually be good parenting. It is time to ask ourselves if the idea that we have of parenting serves us, or causes us pain. It is time to ask ourselves what we want parenting to be like and start heading in that direction. Great parenting is not the result of doing things the way they have always been done. Great parenting is the result of change and innovation.
The time has come to differentiate between loving people and loving the roles we play for other people. It might just benefit our children if they grew up understanding the difference between loving a child and loving the act of parenting in general. Culturing this understanding may just allow them to grow into the role of parenthood with eyes wide open, and with full knowledge that it will be a relationship of contrast.
The moral of the story is: it is enough to simply love your child. You do not have to love parenting to unconditionally love your child. And you do not have to love parenting to be an amazing parent.