I made a comment about parenting. I said I don’t understand why a parent wouldn’t fight to spend more time with their children. It was true. I don’t understand it. A woman in the room looked at me and said sarcastically “Well you have raised so many children, I guess you know how to do it best.”
Yeah, it stung, and it was a comment that had some venom behind it. The people-pleaser side of me wondered what I had done that made this person have anger towards me and feel the need to say that (Had I been arrogant? Had I been thoughtless?), particularly since it was a casual discussion and I hadn’t even made a comment that in required the background of deep parenting skills (or in my mind was particularly controversial.)
My slightly defensive response to the woman was “True, but I have probably spent more time with children than most parents.” We changed the subject and I avoided that person for the rest of the day. Since then I have thought more about it (a lot - because I tend to obsess over such things) and I decided I have something else to say on the subject.
I think not having children particularly qualifies me to make that statement. I understand that being a parent is a privilege denied to many - and yes, I don’t understand why you would be granted that privilege, accept that responsibility, and not do the work it takes to intimately get to know the person you are raising. Too many kids today are virtually raising themselves because their parents have seemingly more important things to garner their attention. Many kids don’t have anyone in their life that is focusing on who they are becoming, and who cares enough to be involved and guide them toward good things. Those kids deserve better.
As a child's parent, you are their provider, their protector, their teacher, their moral guide, and the person who teaches them what a responsible adult looks like. That takes both quality and a quantity of time and attention.
Having a baby or contributing to its DNA does not make you a parent. Most people would agree with that. But I would go a bit further and say that raising a child, or even a house full of children, does not mean you are a parenting expert. Even if they turned out well.
Even if we say that having them turn out well meets the criteria to be able to say you an expert at raising those particular children, it does not give you an expertise that is necessarily transferable to other children. This is not to say you haven't grown a lot of transferrable wisdom along the way that you can share with other parents. But you earn that wisdom from trial and error and succeeding and failing.
Parenting is not a science and not even an art. It’s probably more of a gamble than anything else. You can make good bets along the way, even make the best statistical move at every given moment, but still, that child can grow up to be a person with major issues. You’re raising a person, one with a mind of their own. They have the choice to go in whatever direction they choose, or even just sit there and do nothing with their life.
The paradox to this is that you can’t say it doesn’t matter what you do and throw your hands up in the air. You have to try it. There is nothing a person can do that will more directly impact the world than how they raise their child. That is why I don’t understand people who don’t expend much of their energy on the task.
I am not a parent, and because of that, I have focused on a lot of children in my life. I have worked as a houseparent in a children's home (mostly filled with children whose parents cannot or choose not to parent them). I have worked in many community programs for children, and I have been very involved in the lives of my nieces, nephews, godchildren, and children of friends. I have watched many grow up. I have seen them move to adulthood and raising children of their own. They have talked to me and asked for advice and shared their struggles and their triumphs. I see them and pay attention to what they do and say.
That is why I stand by my statement. I don’t understand why a parent wouldn’t fight to spend more time with their children. I was not granted the privilege of having children of my own, but I have paid attention to the children of many. They need and deserve your best. It makes a difference in who they are and who they are going to be.
It is your responsibility - and your privilege - to know them, their strengths and their weaknesses, and teach them how to live life well, even if you have to learn it for yourself as you go along. You have to respect yourself and command respect from them, so they can do the same as they grow. You have to make good decisions so they learn how to make good decisions. You need to admit when you are wrong so they can admit when they are wrong. You have to lead, so they can follow.
As the adult, you are in the driver's seat. It is your job to get to know who they are, to pay attention and spend time with them, and have quality conversations. Are the other things that grab your attention really more important than raising quality human beings?
When it gets down to it, none of us are experts at raising other humans. We need to cheer parents on as they make the attempt and lend a hand when we can. it's an overwhelming task, requiring energy, ingenuity, and a whole lot of luck. I understand why the idea of checking out can be attractive. Parenting is often exhausting mentally, spiritually, and physically.
But kids deserve a decent childhood. They deserve adults in their lives who see them and hear them. It's best for them when these adults are their parents, who commit and sacrifice to love them well and attempt to teach them the things they need to know in adulthood. Sometimes people forget it's about the children and look to their co-parent, and make it more about them. They need to learn to work with that co-parent, or around that co-parent, so the child gets each parent's best.
When I see or hear of your kids not getting your best, I will judge you. But I will also hope and pray when you are discouraged and tired or out of your depth you will be re-vitalized, and give them what they both need and deserve. Your children are worth the full investment of your time and attention. They are the greatest gifts you will ever get - and give to the world.