You’re in it for life, the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s not for everyone and it’s not for the faint of heart.
I recall a young man I worked with some years ago who was married but childless by choice and his reasoning was interesting. He was the 2nd eldest of 11 children so it fell upon him and his elder sister to help rear the others. By the time he married he felt he’d already raised his children because from the age of 13 he’d been ‘recruited’ to help with the parenting. (ok, I have to interject here…No woman should have to endure 11 pregnancies,,,what are we, machines? I suppose there’s the odd one who actually enjoys perpetual reproduction but surely they have to be the exception and I suspect his mother his would be easy to spot in a crowd. She’ll be the one with her bladder hanging between her knees)
Now his choice to remain childless is fine, if it was a personal preference. But if it was a result of his having to play the role of parent in his young life, that is most unfortunate. To foist the responsibility of raising a family on a young man, simply because his parents chose to over produce is unfair, and selfish on the part of those parents. I get that for many birth control, or the lack of it, is a religious choice but at some point common sense has to factor in. How effective a parent can you be with a large family? (as in this case 11) How much one on one time do you have to spend with these children? And they do need individual attention. More so today than ever.
I squeezed 3 humans out of my body and that was enough. I fell in love with each one as they arrived but I didn’t delude myself into thinking they’d be perfect, or that at age of majority they would move out of my charge and into the world after which I could wash my hands of them and ride off into the sunset. It never works that way and that’s because children, no matter how old need to be nurtured, and as much as you might have a plan for them, they have their own agenda. They didn’t come in to this world simply to please us. They will not be molded into the perfect beings we want, nor will they ever entirely remove themselves from our sphere of responsibility because once you bring a child into your life, you’re in it for life and too late you find out the worry never stops.
As infants you worry about illness or developmental challenges. As children you worry about their integration into school and bullying. The teen years bring a whole host of potentially frightening scenarios; everything from learning to drive, to peer pressure and drugs. Finally, they mature and marry or partner up with someone who cares about them and you temporarily have that sense of accomplishment – your work here is done. You have effectively passed the torch to another who will love and cherish your child. Or maybe not. Maybe they’ve chosen a career over marriage and that’s ok cause either way they have found their niche in life and they are happy.
But maybe the marriage/partnership doesn’t work so you worry about that. And of course, as responsible adults they have jobs, jobs with stress, and you worry about their happiness and their livelihood. Maybe they start a family and that brings you pride and joy. But now the cycle of worry begins again because our children’s children will face all the same challenges they did, the very ones you worried about; illness, development, schooling, friends, their life happiness, and you worry,,,because you are still a parent.
Now I’ve painted a gloomy picture and I didn’t mean to, because with all the worry of having children so comes tremendous joy. The tears you shed over their hurts and losses, the nights you stayed by their bedside watching over a high fever, the fear you felt the first time they went out at night with friends. All these are accompanied by the shared ‘firsts’; the first step, the first day of school, the first job, the first date. And through all these shared successes you found the time to laugh together, to learn from each other and before you know it, you forged a friendship moving from the role of parent to friend; this is the most rewarding part for me. At least I think that’s how it’s supposed to work.
I think this is what I learned from parenting, that it can be exhausting, and challenging, and expensive. It can also be exhilarating, rewarding and fun. I guess it’s what you make of it and we all do the best we can with the knowledge we have. Your children will not always do what you’d like but if you raised them to act responsibly and exercise good judgement, you have to trust that they will do what is right and respect them enough to give them free reign. Your work really is over, it’s just the worry that lingers, and that is the life sentence.
At the end of the day, the effort we put forth in raising our children is no less an accomplishment than those who commit their lives to finding cures for disease, or ending world hunger. Everyone contributes to the society we create and parenting is no less worthy. It’s just more personal.
If you’ve chosen to remain childless, good for you – not everyone’s life path includes 2.5 children, a cocker spaniel and the house with a white picket fence. If however, you’ve chosen to share your life with a child(s) fasten your seatbelt cause you’re in for the ride of your life and it’s a full time commitment. And once you’re in, there’s no going back.
Make the time or find the interest in mentoring your child because being a parent isn’t easy but it is a gift, and if you can’t find the joy in rearing your child, you’re doing it wrong.