Mental Health Moment. | Parenting is Hard
Jul 20, 2022
For those of you who are parents, you will have your own images, memories and experiences that come to mind when I say, ‘Parenting is hard.’ It may be that first few months after a baby is born, when you’re sleep-deprived, exhausted, and making more adjustments to your own life than you ever thought you would need to. If you have a teenager, you may be able to relate to how painful it is to have one of your own children suddenly seem to despise everything you do. You may be the parent of grown children, and maybe they seem to have forgotten you, until they need something.
While most of us would agree that parenting is also extremely rewarding and fulfilling, there are very few people who would say that it’s easy. Parenting a young child is hard because it requires constant vigilance, endless energy, and a letting-go of parts of yourself so that you can give more to someone else. Parenting adolescents and teenagers requires you to be watchful and a guide, but also include some balance of letting go.
Our goal as parents is not to raise perfect children. Our goal is to raise respectable, responsible, and self-sufficient adults. Over the 18-ish years that we are responsible for raising our children we are in a constant progression of teaching, letting go, monitoring, letting go, encouraging, letting go, guiding and advising, and letting go. When they’re newborns we do every single thing for them, carrying them everywhere, and attending to their every need. As they grow a little bit older, and become capable, we are supposed to teach them the skills they will need in life, and then let go and watch them try to do those things. Sometimes that’s the hardest part – just letting them do things without “helping” or taking over. Little by little, we do less and they do more, until by around 18 years of age they should be able to take care of themselves in all the ways they need to, to get through life
If you’re still picking up your 6-year-old’s toys, know that you are not teaching them self-sufficiency or responsibility. You are, instead, teaching them to sit back while someone else does something for them that they are perfectly capable of doing themselves. If you’re still doing your 15-year-old’s laundry, know that you are simply doing the work that another responsible and capable human being should be learning to do for him/herself. If you continue to do things for your child that they have grown old enough, and capable enough, to do themselves, then you are simply teaching them that you’ll do all their stuff, and that your time and energy aren’t as important or valuable as your child’s comfort and easiness. If, instead, you teach your child to get up in the morning and make their own bed, look around to see who else may need help with something, get themselves dressed, pick up after themselves as they get ready, and watch the clock so that they’re on time, you will raise your child gradually into a responsible adult who picks up after him/herself, respects other people’s time, and gets to work dressed, ready for the day, and all… on time.
The letting-go process is really hard, as a parent. We are so invested in their 24/7 care at first, knowing where they are and what they’re doing every single minute of every single day, making all their decisions for them, granting or denying permission to do all things, handing them meals and clean clothes, and making sure they are healthy and have what they need. When you’re that invested in another person, and have given so much to another person, you hope for the “someday” appreciation, and even respect, of that other person. You make sacrifices for your children every day, giving up your own dreams sometimes, declining invitations and opportunities, and making all your decisions with your children’s best interests in mind. In order to give this much to someone else, you must really, really care deeply about them. Human nature makes us hope for that same depth of care and love in return.
Not all children grow up to care about their parents’ needs, though, and even children who have good parents often grow up completely dismissive of their parents once they’re out on their own. Unfortunately, we hear far too often that someone didn’t really appreciate, or know, their parents, until after they had passed away. Suddenly they wish for one last conversation, or for some more time to spend with their parent, but at that point it’s too late. Even if you have a close relationship with your grown children, they will never need you like they did when you were raising them. The irony of this is.. that’s what you want, and that’s the goal. You want your children to be independent, autonomous, and completely self-reliant – in other words, you spend 18 years giving every bit of yourself to your children, with the goal that they will grow up and not need you. Parenting is painful.
Parenting is selfless. Parenting is rewarding. Parenting is all about giving. Parenting is sacrificing. Parenting is a responsibility. Parenting is a gift. Parenting is exhausting. Parenting will take you from extreme joy to extreme sadness, from pride to hurt. Parenting is hard. But go right now and hug each one of your kids, if you can, and be reminded of why you would do it all over again without hesitation.