Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: Tom Cornille
A few months ago, I wrote a post on what we subconsciously teach our kids. But the fact of the matter is, that in the relationship between parents and children, it is the children who are the true teachers.
It took us quite a long time to decide to have children. I could think of every reason in the book not to (environmental concerns, “what kind of world will they grow up in”, studies that show that having children doesn’t make you a happier person, etc.), but there was one overall reason that my mind couldn’t counteract: I really wanted this experience in my life. I felt I would be missing out if I didn’t.
I know now that I wasn’t wrong. Being a mother has been the most rewarding experience of my life up to now.
Once the decision was made, and the baby on the way, I read everything I could to prepare myself. And yet, as any parent will tell you, there’s not a single book in the world that can prepare you for how children will impact your life. From the way your day-to-day life changes to the way your change as a person, every area in our lives undergoes some kind of change, and this cannot but come with lessons to learn, whether we want to or not.
Here are 7 lessons no parent can avoid learning when raising children:
- Coming to grips with how you were parented.
Whether you stem from a warm home or not, the way your parents treated you will come into play as you parent your children. This can be helpful when you copy your parents’ loving acts or when you try to avoid the things that hurt you as a child. But often you also catch yourself repeating their words and tactics in moments of anger, in ways you didn’t plan. It is then your job as an adult to take on these engrained thoughts and practices, if you want to change them. Growing up means becoming your own parent first, and that also means replacing the thoughts from your childhood with the thoughts you choose to think now.
- What powerlessness feels like.
Perhaps it doesn’t take children to learn this lesson, but I don’t know any parent who DOESN’T know what it feels like to feel completely powerless in the face of a baby that won’t stop crying, a toddler in the throws of a tantrum or a teenager that refuses to respect any consequences you put before them.
This feeling of being utterly powerless, of having no control over the situation, is incredibly difficult. It can lead to rage, or despair. Either way, we have to find ways to deal with this emotion when it arises, and learn to keep it from rising up.
- Where your own pressure points lie and what happens when they are pushed too hard.
There is no one that can push your buttons like your own children. And no, they don’t do it on purpose, though it might sometimes feel like that. They have just grown up completely focused on you, as a parent, for years. So if anyone knows you, it’s your children. You can’t hide from them, not when you’re sad nor when you’re angry. They have learned to pay very close attention to what ticks you off; and at times they are very much willing to demonstrate this.
The anger you can feel as a parent directed at your own children, the frustration that can arise, can be a very scary experience and invites strongly to reflect on your own emotional, behavioural and thought patterns.
- How someone else’s pain can become your own pain.
Seeing your children suffer, watching them cry or feel hurt, is a feeling you can’t ignore. The connection is so deep, so all-encompassing, that their pain feels like your pain. When I see how my children miss their father after our divorce, each time again, I feel this pain deep in my heart. I ache for them and I so wish I could take that pain away, and yet…
- There are things you can’t fix, even if you want to.
As a parent, you want to give your children everything they need, everything they deserve. But you can’t. There will be times you will not be there when they need you to be. There will be times they’ll be in pain and you won’t be able to comfort them. There will be times when you are angry and all they want is to feel close and loved. Accepting this, your own limitations as a parent, is both incredibly hard and also, strangely liberating. It allows you to come to terms with yourself and view yourself with compassion.
As Alain the Botton once said (paraphrased): “How can imperfect children learn to accept themselves if they are raised by perfect parents?”
- You have really very little control over who your children become.
If you have more than one child, you quickly find out that each of these creatures responds very differently toward your attempts at shaping their character. So much so, that you might start to question whether these attempts have much affect. As this TED-talk shows, your children are largely going to be who they are going to be, and what we do to shape them has, at most, a small and very unpredictable effect.
- Love knows no limits.
This is the first lesson I learned, and it’s the one I see repeated every single day. My love for my children is not a choice, it’s a deep rooted instinct and it is so powerful that it can withstand anything. Whether it’s my children hitting me when they are angry or telling me I’m a ‘stupid mama’, there is not a doubt in my mind that even in my enraged moments, I love my children more than anything else in this universe.
Realising that this is how most parents feel about their children helps us understand why refugees put children on overcrowded boats, why celebrities bribe universities so there children can attend and why the mother of a murderer continues to stand by her child.
Love, really is, the strongest force there is.
I’m curious to hear which lessons you learned from being a parent. Feel free to share them in the comments below and I’ll enjoy learning from your experiences as well.