When people talk about children, I regularly hear them refer to the associated parental responsibility. It’s often spoken of in the same way as a mortgage or job: the weight of the duty clearly an unwelcome pressure making us feel emotionally overwhelmed. And as all parents will appreciate, the relentlessness can, of course, be all-consuming. If we’re being frank, it can be downright suffocating.
Today is Boxing Day (I am not working, I scheduled in advance don’t you know!), and with that in mind I wanted to take a moment to think about family, and what it means to us. Last year, I wrote a tongue in cheek post about Christmas, and how much I detest it; but in actual fact, it’s one of my favourite times of year. Why? Because for the most part it reminds us all to appreciate our loved ones. But when we become parents, the festive period becomes that much more significant.
Our babies are our whole world; and that never stops. We want the best for them and we do what is necessary to keep them safe, and healthy, and – as far as possible – happy.
Naturally, our best will never quite be enough: from the moment they learn the word ‘no’, we must accept that we will be scrutinised constantly – and usually we’ll be found wanting.
I don’t know about you, but I feel the responsibility of having a daughter almost incessantly. The exhaustion that comes from putting another person at the centre of our universe and generally receiving little thanks is understandably dispiriting. Who knew you could feel tiredness in your bones? It can make us despondent at best and resentful at worst. When we are on our knees and critically in need of a break, *whispers* they can even feel like a burden. (It’s the reason they’re designed cute, apparently.)
But this post is not, in fact, about the hardships of having a child.
Because despite the overwhelming grind that is never quite ‘done’; despite the taxing stresses of a needy toddler; when I consider my responsibilities towards my daughter, I don’t think of the mental and physical fatigue.
Awe and Wonder
I think of the wonder in her innocent face when she looks at me; I think about how our interactions at such a tender age will shape her as a person. I think of the blank canvas I have before me, and my capacity to make it flourish – or flounder; I think of the delicate, unfinished soul which I have the honour and privilege of holding in my palms, and in my arms; I think of the default adoration, and trust, and faith she places in me, every day.
I think of the many, many ways both myself and her father bear the potential to inadvertently harm her sweet, sensitive nature – and in doing so, damage her for life.
My husband and I had an epiphany several years ago, the logic of which we all know, but don’t necessarily apply to our own circumstances. We came to realise that we never question the things our parents tell us when we’re small.
As we grow and develop our own minds and understanding of the world, we may begin to call them out on their ideas, theories and values; but as young children, we are programmed to simply accept whatever they tell us as the absolute truth. And, if we’ve grown up believing a particular concept, it’s only when we repeat it and somebody else questions it that we finally examine our unshakeable conviction…
- Is My Brave Face Too Brave?
- Alpha Parent Syndrome: How to Redress the Balance
- To the Mum About to Lose Her Mind…
A beautiful example of what I mean:
As a kid, my husband noticed he sometimes had a stomach ache after going swimming. When he asked his father why this was, he was given an answer which his young mind found acceptable; and which thereafter he always accepted to be the truth (until he recounted it to me as an adult, causing me to nearly have a seizure from laughing so hard). For your delectation, here’s his little gem:
If you get a tummy ache when you go swimming, it’s because sometimes…the water goes up your bum.
Responsibility Privilege of Being a Parent
So I don’t dwell on the responsibility of my daughter (it’s what I signed up to, after all), I focus on my responsibility towards her. I think of how she places me on a pedestal – just as I did with my own parents – and therein the extreme honour bestowed upon me.
The staggeringly daunting ‘responsibility’ I feel for my daughter is all about her, and not about me at all. It’s for her welfare today, and her wellbeing – for the rest of her life.
Does the responsibility of being a parent make you emotionally overwhelmed? Do you have (irrational?) fears about screwing up your child?
This post first appeared on Futures.