First and foremost, this post carries a disclaimer that I’m not, by any means, in a position to be an authority on parenting. I do not have kids. But, as an only child, I was fortunate to have the beneficial distance and detachment that facilitated my own observations on family life, and the interactions therein. Henceforth, it is only as an observer that I dare present my opinion on this topic.
I recently read Steve Rose’s blog post “The Meaning of Having Children” and a lot of thoughts and old opinions came to mind. In the past I was very much biased by the notion that children were nothing but a nuisance in a couple’s life, preventing them from fully enjoying each other and exploring life together. I only saw the cons of having children. I could not see past this personal judgment, maybe because being an only child myself, I was stereotypically influenced by selfish and egocentric views of reality where my interests had to come first. As I grew older, however, these static notions began to shake the very foundations of my settled opinions on this topic.
I still hold close to my belief that having children is a difficult decision. In a world that is suffering in all areas due to overpopulation, deciding to bring another being into existence is a choice that must be considered carefully from all angles. We just need to look around or hear the news to be aware of the perils and hardships we are facing now due to the number of people living on this planet. The future looks even more dismal if the number of people increase and we can’t find the proper solutions to the problems already putting human life at the risk of possible extinction. Maybe, each affluent couple, who wishes to have more than one kid, should adopt another to each new child they bring to life. It would not resolve the population problem, but it would, at least, give an opportunity to orphans and abandoned children to have a better life.
To aggravate the issue, there has always been a chasm between generations, a fact which adds to the challenges of raising a child. The responsibility of providing a healthy environment where a growing individual can have the opportunity to thrive and become their best in life starts with the relationship between the parents and the child from the very beginning. A two-way honest dialogue between the parties needs to be practiced and emphasized on a regular basis as part of daily communication at home. In our sophisticated technological world it is easy to isolate ourselves at the end of the day, and hanging out with the family can be seen as a boring and useless chore, or a waste of time. When families face this problem with a teenage son or daughter, it is very difficult, if not unlikely, to revert the situation and go back to a time in their lives where communication and quality time could have established the foundation that would have created a strong bond at home.
Investing on your kids can be lucrative in the long run – some may still think!
In many cultures across the globe when a couple gets married and starts a life together they already follow a pattern perpetuated by generations of families that came before them. In a lot of poor countries, children are seen as a profitable investment for the future, of not only the parents, but also of the whole extended family that might be economically less privileged than their younger counterparts. These parents usually do no use contraceptive options, either based on religious beliefs, or because they want a large family that will help them by boosting the household income in the future. The money invested in the children’s education will guarantee that they will pay it forward by becoming main breadwinners for the family. It will be their responsibility, when they grow up and graduate, to help and support not only their parents and siblings, but also other members of their extended family. Everyone will come to them to remind them that the position they have now in their lives is, to a great extent, because of the financial help they received when they were young. Not being aware of this extensive debt they acquired when they were simply going to school and being good kids, they now have to forget about themselves and their dreams and work as primary sources of pecuniary maintenance, many times working abroad away from their loved ones in a sort of voluntary exile. It is a hard price to pay.
The right reasons – the right moment – the options
It is imperative to be clear about one’s reasons for having children. Sometimes a couple, who has been married for so long, live desperate, unfulfilled lives together in their failed attempts to have a child at all costs. People can go to great lengths in order to procreate. In many of these cases, marriages fall apart due to blame and feelings of inadequacy and failure. I always think that if a couple tries hard to have a baby, and for some genetic problem, or other factors, is unable to conceive, they should consider adoption. Adopting a child is a life-affirming act of compassion. We all adopt pets all the time to give them a chance to have good, healthy and happy lives. We can certainly embrace an abandoned child with the same attitude. It is the ultimate act of love.
Nobody can argue that caring for another human being is an act of altruism. It surely fills one’s life with meaning and purpose. However, the dynamics of family life is not always so simple and modest. Parents and children are growing together, and in the process, the parents’ traumas and unresolved emotional issues are certainly coming to the fore as they get triggered by the experiences brought about through the close interaction. Each member of the family has a role to play in order to maintain the structure of the family life. Regardless of how healthy the relationship might be, parents are still the figure of authority in the landscape of the household, and, thus, will have their position of control questioned at times and even rebelled against.
Being a figure of authority and a role model
We often tend to gauge the degree of immaturity a teenager has based on their behavior and unyielding opinions. Most often these are underlying symptoms that indicate a predominant crisis the adolescent is going through in face of an inability to cope with a given situation. This crisis might have sprung out of a specific situation outside the family space or originated within the very core of the child’s home. Parents must constantly reevaluate their own behavior within the sphere of the marriage, as well as in relation to their children and every other social interaction. Children pick up easily on these dysfunctional nuances in their parents behavior, and will react to them differently. The family space at home is a learning ground where everyone is learning together; parents need to observe their own responses to life, lest they don’t fall into the same parenting traps they have always vowed to never repeat.
In a way, parents fail to grow and change when given the opportunity to look at themselves in their children and face up to their own fears, doubts, insecurities and shortcomings. Instead, they go on pretending to be a final product, with a self-imposed idea to be an impeccable role model, expecting their children to buy into that notion as they grow up. The children eventually catch on to the travesty of morality imparted to them and the sham is sadly uncovered.
Procreation as a purpose for one’s life
There’s an insurmountable amount of pressure put on women to bear children. It becomes the sole purpose in their lives. This stress can be devastating. I know a couple whose husband had become adamant in his decision to not have children. He felt incapable of raising a child for fear of making the horrible mistakes his parents, allegedly, have made with him. In his case, his own experience as a kid had marred and destroyed his qualifications of ever becoming a parent. This couple separated for a while only to go back together years later because they really loved and cared for each other so much. However, he would not compromise and his wife was the one who had to do the ultimate sacrifice of never fulfilling her motherly desires in order to stay with him. Even adoption was out of the question.
It is imperative for the parents to cultivate an honest relationship with their children. In order to do that, both father and mother need to be brave and humble enough to embrace their vulnerabilities as well as their strengths. There’s nothing more inspiring than to see your parents as human as you are, and knowing that they won’t always have the best answers or advice to the challenges in their lives, but that they will be by their side as they figure it out. Parenting is never finished. It is a constant learning process of being in relationship with each other. It’s knowing the moment to talk, but also being present and open to listen without judgment or preconceived notions colored by one’s own experiences. It is important to be present and be willing to see things with a fresh mind, much in the way Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki called “beginner’s mind”.
I can imagine the joys of raising and caring for the well-being of a child. I was fortunate to be around one of my friends’ struggling years as a single mom. We were able to step in and help her every day since we were all neighbors. When her kid came into our lives he was only 3 years old. The memories and bond we share are priceless. Today he’s almost 18 and the trust and respect we have was brought forth during his early years with us and the honest approach we all had towards him. Experiencing life with a child is an opportunity of renewal and growth. It is important that we don’t offer a false identity of who we are in our quest of being role models. The child needs to see the adult with honesty in every stage of their lives. When we are in contact with a child we are often reminded of the beautiful things about ourselves, especially the spontaneity we hid behind the veil of illusion of what an adult should be like in order to fit in.
Seeing the world through someone else’s eyes is a remarkable and life-changing experience. We step out of ourselves and accept different perspectives; we open space for dialogue, understanding and healing. Resistance happens because of fear. Fear is the root of many dysfunctional interactions at home and in society at large. It takes courage to let go of fear and to look at your child as a complete individual other than who you are or what you want them to be. That’s when real parenting starts.