It is no secret that the relationships we have with our children teach us more than any other relationships we have. When it comes to evolving as a person, nothing provides a steeper learning curve than parenting does. Much of this is due to the attachment we feel for our children. The love that a parent holds for their child is its own, unique kind of love and it is true that you cannot know or learn from that kind of love unless you become a parent. But just because we love our children more than anything on earth does not necessarily mean that we love parenting. And disliking parenting does not mean that we do not love our children.
Universally, the parent child relationship was designed to be a relationship of contrast. It is a relationship that is meant to show us what we do not want and thus inspire us towards what we do want. As an infant (even if we are born to the best of parents) we still have to deal with the experience of being dependent on someone else. We have to experience being physically out of control of our own well-being. That is not an enjoyable thing to experience for any being. It is contrast, contrast that inspires us to desire autonomy. Staying focused on and lining up with that autonomy is what causes our physical structure to age and begin performing autonomous actions like walking and using utensils to feed ourselves.
As parents, we experience a great many things that are not enjoyable to experience. Things like changing diapers, cleaning up throw up, trying to train our children to get along in a society that we don’t even like most of the time, being responsible for another person’s physical well being, not being able to go somewhere on a whim at eight o-clock at night because we can’t leave our children at home, and listening to a sesame street song so many times in a row that it is now keeping us awake at night (the list goes on and on).
The relationship with our children is also meant to trigger unresolved wounds and suppressed memories and feelings from our own childhood, so that we may integrate those fractured aspects of our being and become more whole. To parent our children well, we must begin to parent our internal child well first; otherwise we will end up repeating the exact same pattern and style of parenting that our parents demonstrated towards us. Parenting provides us with the opportunity to externally parent our inner child. When we parent our children, we have a choice to either parent them the same way we were parented, or to make changes. The changes we make are changes that suit our own child within; a child that did not feel loved unconditionally.
There is a reason that parents have often felt like once they have children their life is over. It is because when we opt into the role of parenthood, we are opting into all of the lessons that go along with that. We are choosing the fast track. Every time we experience those unenjoyable parts of parent hood, it causes us to give rise to the idea of what we would prefer both for ourselves and for our children. For example, when we feel resentment because we have to take care of our children instead of do what we really want to do (like go dancing), we desire our child to be autonomous. Which is a desire that they, themselves share. And our desire for them to achieve autonomy is creating their autonomy. In essence, we co-create the experience of our children physically aging so they can become autonomous.
Childhood wasn’t designed as a purely enjoyable experience; neither was parenting. If it were purely enjoyable, there would be no expansion born from the experience. And there could be no integration of our own past childhood traumas. There would be no forward movement. You wouldn't be inspired towards anything. You wouldn't desire anything new and as a result, you wouldn't create or become anything new. As parents, we have been cultured to believe that the role of parenting is sacrosanct. We are cultured to believe that if we admit that we do not like parenting, that we are somehow betraying and abandoning our children. This is not the case. In fact many people, who are parents, don’t actually like parenting. This resistance to parenting happens because many people, who have children, have not yet integrated the suppressed emotions from their own childhoods and so their own children trigger a kind of post-traumatic stress reaction within them. What these parents love is the connection they have with their children. What they love is those magic moments when their child falls asleep on their chest or takes their first step or enjoys some part of life.
When many people say they love parenting, what they actually love is feeling valid. Being responsible for someone’s well being and being needed makes us feel validated. That is what most people actually enjoy, not the actual act of changing a diaper. For people who do not derive their value from being needed, and who simultaneously lived emotionally painful childhoods, parenting can feel more like torture. But this does not mean that we will be terrible parents. It does not mean that we made a mistake by becoming a parent. And it does not mean that we do not love our children as much as those who are actually validated by their role as parents do.
We perpetuate the lie that we all love parenting because we are so afraid of what it means about us as people if we admit that we don’t. We fear that it makes us a bad person. We’re afraid that other people will think that we do not love our children, and think that we are a bad person because of it. We’re also afraid that our children will personalize it and think that it is their fault that we do not like parenting. But we suffer when we perpetuate the lie that we all love parenting. We feel intense guilt, we feel as if we do not deserve our children and as if we are somehow defective because we don’t enjoy parenting. And the truth is, it is a rare, rare parent who does not secretively feel the same way. We just don’t want to admit it to each other. The real truth is that we are all too afraid to look at our own childhoods, uncover the suppressed emotions from our childhoods and feel them. But as long as we perpetuate the lie that we love parenting, we will never be brave enough to admit to how parenting makes us feel. We will also never face the painful emotional imprints from our own childhoods.
If we admit that we do not like parenting, we are admitting to where we are. We can only move to where we want to be, once we have admitted to where we are. And we can use what we do not like about parenting to re-define parenting. We can re-design our role in our children’s lives so as to experience much more of what we do love about our relationships with our children.
Just because society has defined what parenting is, doesn't mean that definition is correct. In fact, much of what we consider to be good parenting is not good parenting. Most of what we call ‘good parenting’ is in fact conditional love. It is time to ask ourselves if the idea that we have of parenting serves us, or causes us pain. It is time to ask ourselves what we want parenting to be like and start heading in that direction. Great parenting is not the result of doing things the way they have always been done. Great parenting is the result of change, innovation and the bravery to admit to and heal our own childhood pain.
The time has come to differentiate between loving people and loving the roles we play for other people. It might just benefit our children if they grew up understanding the difference between loving a child and loving the act of parenting in general. Culturing this understanding may just allow them to grow into the role of parenthood with eyes wide open, and with full knowledge that it will be a relationship of contrast that is meant to cause the old and buried childhood pain within us, to surface for integration.