Making the decision.
The parenting class I teach at Ohio State has started up again and I have a lecture hall full of undergraduate students. This makes me very happy because, as I tell them, this is one of the few courses they will take at OSU from which they will actually use the content every day of their lives since most of them want to be parents.
On the first night of class we talk about general issues in parenting and one of the issues we discuss is how people decide to become parents, or not to become parents as the case may be. I ask them how many of them plan to be parents and the vast majority of them quickly raise their hands. I am always amazed by this because, as a parent of two grown children and a professor who has been teaching this course for a number of years, I know how difficult this parenting job is.
Seriously, just think about this for a moment every day people around the world make a decision that they are going to take on a job that they will never be able to quit. The job requires years of 24-hour shifts, organization and communication skills that are unbelievable, an enormous financial commitment, and the willingness to make unpopular decisions and be hated!
It requires the stamina of a well seasoned athlete, the decision-making skills of a top level executive, and the patience of a saint. It requires you to clean up poop and throw up, to fix broken hearts, to teach such abstract skills as how to make a good choice, and to chauffer someone around for years.
Think about what the job description for a parent would look like if you were to read it in the paper. Just think about that for a moment. I doubt very much that it would be something that you would consider applying for; yet every day that same job is filled, time after time. Why is it that these students, the same ones who complain about having to write too many papers, so quickly raise their hands to take on this parenting job? Is it because we don't actually see it as a job? Is it because we don't really think about the whole scope of the job while we make the decision? Is it because until we are in the middle of it we don't really believe it is that hard?
I have never really given any thought to how I decided to become a parent until today. I realize that for me the answer was that I just always wanted to be a parent, I don't actually remember making the decision to be one. From the time I was a little girl my favorite thing to do was to pretend to be a mommy. My babies were always with me and I can still remember how it felt to take care of them. I loved the dressing, the feeding, the rocking to sleep. I absolutely loved it. As I write this I realize, however, that these babies never talked back. They never cried without stopping. They never grew up and made decisions that were hard for me to stomach.
As a teenager, I spent hours babysitting other people's children. This was a bit more realistic. They cried, talked back, and made messes. Still I loved it and could not wait to have my own babies so I could do this full-time. This decision, this all important decision, to take on the responsibility of raising a person -- a living, breathing human being -- is breathtaking when you stop to really think about it.
I have often said in this column that parenting is the hardest thing I have ever done. Have there been days since I became a parent that I have thought maybe it was not such a good idea? Of course. I think that happens to most of us at least once (maybe once a week depending on how old your child is at the moment!). But I have also said in this column that this decision to be a parent has been the most rewarding thing I have ever done.
In the end I am always still glad that I made this choice, this decision to give up a part of myself to care for someone else. I look at the adults that were once my babies and I marvel at the fact that they came from me. I look at them and wish I could have done the job better. I look at them and am shocked that they have turned out as well as they have given the life circumstance that we all lived through. I look at them and have deep respect for their ability to survive, each in their own very distinct way.
In the end I look at them and am deeply grateful that I made the decision to be a parent. I am deeply grateful that my parents and their parents back many generations made this same decision. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to have this job, this job that I would not apply for if I read it in the paper.
Whether we made this decision to parent consciously or not, we are all on the same journey. Stop for a moment and honor your decision it is one of life's greatest gifts.