If you have children, you have discovered a great deal about yourself.
Parents, me included, entered into this role not really understanding how life-changing this event would be. Most, if not all of us, started out thinking we would change and shape those little bundles of life, only to discover that we, the parent(s), are more transformed than our children.
Adults who don’t have children tend to be more in their own heads and usually more self-absorbed. Parents, on the other hand, are forced to focus on the needs of their children--by necessity. Parenting brings with it a deep sense of responsibility, some for authentic reasons of caring for a developing human being, while others do so because they don’t want to be considered a “bad” parent. Often, both thoughts cross the parents’ minds simultaneously.
Becoming a parent forces us to become less self-centered. The newborn infant requires us to spend most if not all of our time fulfilling its needs and wants. A baby doesn’t care that you have a job and need to get a good night sleep.
Since an infant doesn’t know how to deal with bodily waste, parents have to compensate for his/her lack of knowledge and training. If the baby’s needs aren’t met, then the child will cry and scream until its needs for comfort are satisfied. Before I became a parent I was met with laughter from women when I stated that a baby only needed to have his/her diapers changed a couple times a day.
Since an infant can’t feed itself, a parent is required to meet those needs. Sometimes, figuring out what the child prefers is a guessing game. Babies can’t talk, but they can communicate quite effectively—often driving parents wild with frustration.
Like dogs, babies watch and absorb reactions of adults by looking at their eyes and facial expressions. If the adult is non-reactive or depressed on a frequent basis, the child’s sense of security is threatened. The child reacts to the parent’s fear and uncertainty and anger with their own uncertainty, absorbed from their parents.
As a child becomes a toddler, their powers of observation increase as do their moods. A child is constantly absorbing attitudes and emotions from their parents and/or surrogates. As children age into teen-hood and late adolescence, their raging hormones and emotions, desire for independence, and deep dependency clash, causing feelings of inadequacy in the parents.
Many times, a parent doesn’t know what to do. Some often have trouble admitting their frustrations and feelings of inadequacy, thinking that such admissions will make them appear weak. In actuality, admitting our own limitations is the best way to teach our children authenticity. It’s better to be honest than to put on an act.
Genetics play a big part, too. Some children are introverted and quiet, while others are extroverted and more social. Some have rebellious personalities while others seek to please. Some children are very discerning while others are clueless about the relationships and the dynamics taking place around them.
One thing that I noticed, having two older adoptive brothers, is that children know if they are loved and considered part of the family. Children know if they are accepted. These feelings are internalized and carried into adulthood, affecting how adults relate to future spouses and significant others.
Children force parents to face reality. Being a parent requires us to become more aware of our own self-centeredness and emotions. A parent needs to exercise self-discipline because an angry look or response only sets off hyper reactions and emotions in their children.
Finally, being a parent teaches us humility. We are changed as much by our parenting experience as our children are who grow up under our care. One way to determine how effective you were as a parent is to see if or whether our children want to continue a relationship with you into adulthood, or whether our parenting techniques and the lessons we learned and absorbed from our parents drove our children away.
Being a good parent requires us to learn from our children. We must be both firm and flexible, depending on the situation and circumstances. Becoming a parent teaches us maturity. The more mature we become, the better chance our children will be good parents—and perhaps, hopefully, even better.
Our own children are now in their late thirties and early forties. Thinking back on it, I feel my time as a parent is probably the single most satisfying thing I have ever done. The process continues as a parent of adults and grandchildren.