Ask any parent, and they’ll agree: Parenting is hard. Despite the humor in the above picture, it really is difficult. As my 4 year old was running away from me the other night, screaming at me as he ran, I realized why this relationship is so hard: My desire to be safe is threatened by my kids.
I’ve invited and brought these little humans into the world. I’ve fed them, hugged them, disciplined them, and have done my best to love them. Ultimately, though, what I have given them is a part of me. They walk and run around this world with my heart draped over their shoulder.
The reality of being unsafe with them comes alive in moments of panic. When my 9-month old is choking on something he’s found under the dining room table, I become aware that his life is the container of a part of me that I’ll never have back. If he goes away, so does his portion of my heart. It’s why a child’s scream of terror or pain makes me move with the speed of a superhuman. When my son falls off the bed at night, I’m in his room quicker than his tears.
My heart is with them, and I am not safe. They will do as they please. They have the same free-will as I do, and I really don’t like them for that. In fact, I often resent them for being human. Sometimes, I wish they were robots, doing as I say, playing nice, and behaving on behalf of what’s right. I want them to be safe, so I can be safe.
But really, safety is just an illusion. Our cars have air bags, but at 75 mph on an interstate, compressed air isn’t going to keep me safe. An airplane has seat belts, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m in a rocket with wings going 500 miles per hour 30,000 feet above the ground. I lock my house at night, but a deadbolt is not going to keep a tornado at bay, nor the rising waters of a flood.
Much of life is building and creating supports that give us the illusion of feeling safe. Kids don’t factor into that illusion. This is only a realization understood by parents. Kids are humans, and they’re going to do what they think is best, or whatever pleases them. There’s nothing I can do to be in control of them. This reality coupled with the gift of my heart to them creates a mess. If I want to be safe, I must control them; if I am okay not being safe, I must find a way to cope with the inevitable pain. This is a sobering thought as a parent.
It’s sobering, because I know that I often try to control them. I try to get them to stop smacking their food, stop eating pizza on the couch, and stop fighting as they brush their teeth. When I realize that I can’t control them, I get jealous (Hey, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, right?). I’m jealous that they get to be the kids and I have to be the grown-up.
I think life as an adult is lived in the infamous 80-20 rule: Eighty percent is doing things we have to do, and 20 percent is what we want to do. That equation is the opposite for kids. To be an adult, we cannot play 80 percent of the time. And this is the problem for most of us adults. We don’t want to do the 80% of work that life requires. We want easy, and 80% work is not easy. The result … numbed-out adults
Kids aren’t numb (depressed), rather they feel and express. Kids expression in life challenges adult depression. When I want to sleep, don’t wake me. Adults want to go to sleep, figuratively, and when a kid wakes them, they wake the rage of being roused from the comfy sleepy world of depression. Getting angry at a kid for being curious is like getting mad at water for being wet.
This is why parenting is so hard: As a parent, I can’t keep kids from being kids … and, they invite us to see the world through untamed eyes. It’s both wonderful and frightful. Parenting is about helping kids become adults tomorrow while holding onto hope, wonder, curiosity, and awe they live with today.