Becoming a parent is a special thing. It brings enormous joy with it, a sense of achievement of having carried a baby (to term, hopefully) and gotten it out into the world (one way or another). If the baby is healthy and the mother is fine, life smiles at your family. What could possibly be wrong with that?
Well, evidently, a lot.
Somehow, too many of the parents I meet treat their children like a burden and parenting like the hardest and most unrewarding thing they have ever had to drag themselves through. “Those kids could drive you nuts”, they say with a tormented face and a desperate voice, “I wish sometimes I could make them go away, even for a while”.
Wait a second! How did you get from “koochi koochi koo” to “get away from me NOW, you little monster”?
Let’s backtrack to before we were parents. What were we then? Oh, yes, we were a young couple at the peak of our health and abilities, our dreams ripe with success and fame and changing the world.
So why did we have kids?
Because we figured, “What best way to manifest our joint love and personal magnificence than to create a wonderful little creature together and love it forever and ever?” Because of the 6 emotional human needs, parenting was going to give us everything: certainty (because we are god-like and can create a life), variety (because kids grow and do bigger and better things over time), significance (“Isn’t he just adorable? He’s mine, you know”), love and connection (oh, the cuddles and that trusting baby face), growth (we will get to that shortly) and contribution (“Our daughter will do truly great things, I just know it”).
But as soon as we come home with our little bundle of (we quickly discover) screaming, peeing, pooping, breast sucking, always wanting some kind of attention (were you thinking of joy?), we realize that the price for fulfilling all those needs was our freedom.
Before you jump too high for your own good, think about it for a second. Parenting is great in many respects, but it is a lifelong commitment to our children, people we did not know at the time we made that commitment. In fact, with no parenting experience whatsoever (for most of us, anyway), we committed ourselves to many years of unknown challenges we could not imagine and had no assurance we could handle, let alone be good at.
[Hey, what is with this guy? Is he not supposed to tell me how parenting is great?]
But really, are kids a burden?
Well, that depends on what you choose to focus on. It also depends on how you view the family system and your role in it.
Parenting is a choice
Unless you are in complete denial (or something really horrible happened to you), becoming a parent was your choice. Even if you ran away from home and had no money for contraception and “it just happened”, it was still very much your choice. Sex, after all, is something you need to participate in and during months of pregnancy, there is a lot you can do to avoid having a baby.
Get it? It was your choice to have kids.
You are in charge
By the way, it was certainly NOT your kids’ choice. If you are not sure, try to recall yourself choosing your own parents. Your children did not choose when to be born, where to be born or who they want to be born to. In fact, there is little of importance they do choose during much of their young lives.
Instead of wondering how THEY became so annoying, a better question is how YOU may have contributed to the way they behave and how YOU developed the view that the most precious people in your life are annoying.
Again, before you jump too high and hurt yourself, this is not about blame. It is about discovering what influences your kids’ behavior and how you perceive it. Once you find those influences, you should be able to change things quite a bit, be happy and help your kids be happy too.
Kids are human too
If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?
– Shylock in The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
The most common attitude parents have toward “troublesome kids” places the parents at the center of the universe and views the kids as their extensions. In this view, when a child “misbehaves”, this reflects badly on the parent. Using this model, the only possible explanation for screaming at the supermarket is that the child is trying to make the parent feel uncomfortable.
But people rarely do things for or against others. Like it or not, we are all self-centered and do everything we do because at some level we believe it will be good for US. So when you feel uncomfortable with your child’s behavior, there is actually something else entirely that made them do it. They wanted to get something for THEM.
When you put it this way and start looking for what your children want, you may find out that it is in your power to give it to them. In return, you will get your peace and quiet, a seemingly compliant behavior from them and the feeling that you are a great parent.
The Hollies sang a famous song in 1969, which describes a brother’s loving treatment, which I find inspiring as a parent when my patience almost runs out. Just swap “he” with “she” or “they” and “brother” with “son”, “daughter”, “kids” or even “babies”.
He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother
The road is long, with many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where, who knows when
But I’m strong, strong enough to carry him
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.
So on we go, his welfare is of my concern
No burden is he to bear, we’ll get there
For I know he would not encumber me
If I’m laden at all, I’m laden with sadness
That everyone’s heart isn’t filled with the gladness
Of love for one another.
It’s a long, long road, from which there is no return
While we’re on the way to there, why not share?
And the load doesn’t weigh me down at all
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.
Brings a tear to my eyes every time, this song, and instead of being angry with my little ones (regardless of their age), I hug them and speak to them softly.
How about you?