Just after I had my first child, a high school friend of mine emailed me and wondered what I thought about parenting. She and her husband were trying to decide if they wanted to have children, and her friends were always talking about how hard and expensive it is. This question gave me a chance to reflect on motherhood and how it has changed me.
First, I think that having children is great because it opens us up to a new kind of love. Growing up, we can love our parents, love our siblings, love our friends, love our boyfriends or girlfriends, and eventually love a spouse. Each of these loving relationships is different, and they teach us something about life and how the world works. Having children opens us up to one more type of loving relationship.
The difference between having kids and being a member of a family is that the decision to have kids is just that – a choice. We don’t choose to be born or to be a sibling – those relationships happen to us. But having children is usually an intentional choice. Making the decision to have kids opens us to an entire new range of emotions. In a theoretical sense, it gives us a chance to experience the greatest fullness and pride possible. It also gives us a chance to experience the greatest grief and fear possible. And the real struggle is that we don’t get to choose which experience we have – and most parents would probably say that parenting is a bit of both.
When a baby is born, the parents realize that they could never have anticipated how much love and joy they could feel. When a baby is sick, the parents realize that they could never have anticipated how much heartache and sadness they could feel. To decide to become a parent, you have to be willing to acknowledge that both worlds are possible.
This theoretical idea became real to me when my son was born. He was lovely and healthy, but being the parent of an infant was really, really hard. Then he got an infection that led us to the hospital several times – and eventually resulted in surgery for our 11 week old. Joy and heartache. Love and fear.
This experience helped me to understand more about the world than I did before. It helped me to look at my parents differently. My mom and dad changed my diapers, fed me, loved me, and were afraid for me - just as I was for my baby. I decided that I could probably be a better daughter – I could call more often and speak with more patience than I had before.
Another unexpected outcome of my situation was a new kind of empathy for friends and strangers who have had some kind of difficulty with children. Some friends have chosen to take the risk and try to have kids, only to learn that they can’t easily get pregnant. Some friends have lost children to rare diseases at birth. Miscarriage is a very common occurrence that is rarely talked about. I have not experienced it myself, but I can imagine how losing a child – at any age – would be unbearable, and I have the upmost sympathy and admiration for people who have survived such a tragedy.
In the end, I told my friend that in my mind, the best thing I could do in this world was to bring a kind, smart, loving person into it. I can try my best to be a good person and leave a good legacy, but I can’t imagine anything more rewarding in this life than knowing that I have added a good person to our broken world.
My mom had a quote framed in our house that probably influenced my thoughts, and I leave you with it for today:
“One hundred years from now, it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove…but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.”
(Forest E. Witcraft)