Life changes when children enter the picture, whether it be through birth, adoption, marriage, or foster care of some type. The change, though wonderful, introduces stress. Our goal is to keep stress from transitioning to distress. Just introducing change to any degree results in stress.
Though there shall always be surprise situations that may get us a bit off balance, some guiding principles will help us stay the course. Much like sailors of old set their gaze upon a star or a distant object to help them stay on course despite the wind and waves.
I have done only enough sailing to get myself thoroughly wet, but I have driven a tractor across my pasture spraying herbicides to control weeds. Regardless of whether you consider that wicked or wise, it does illustrate a similar point as sailing. To thoroughly cover the pasture with the clear liquid, I must pick a point of destination across the field every time I turn around, drive as straight as I can toward it, and remember that point the next time I turn back in that direction. It then becomes the mark by which I measure my progress. Little by little, I work across the field until I reach the end.
Unlike sailing, I do not know if I have done a good job when the day is done. For 2-3 weeks, I anxiously await the dying of the weeds, and almost without fail, I find strips that I missed where the weeds are flourishing. Sometimes I see what caused me to veer too far right or too far left. But the spraying is done for the season and we, the horses and I, have to deal with it.
Parenting is not like killing weeds, and there is no magic potion, but there is a process, and a goal. What is the goal of parenting? This is where each of us should stop, and consider the answer. How would you define it?
Many years ago, while I was in college, I had the privilege of taking a course in child development. After getting accepted to medical school, I determined that taking 2 more advanced chemistry courses was unnecessary punishment, and thus, elected to take this class offered by the Home Economics Department. Yes, I know that they have since changed the name to Human Ecology, but history is important.
Parenting is the process of eliminating your child’s need for you.
As I began, many years ago, a definition of parenting was presented to me in a college class and I, at first, thought it to be off base. The more I thought about it, the more I found it to be the simple truth. Parenting is the process of eliminating your child’s need for you.
Wait a minute! All this stress, all these changes, all this loss of sleep, and all this learning is so they will no longer need me? Get over it! In the end, you will either not be here, or will be playing a different role. Someday, you should be a grandparent! I highly recommend it! But there is a path one travels to get there, and it is called parenting—eliminating your child’s need for you.
Most of us with deceased parents would still like to talk to them from time to time. I still find myself thinking, “what would Dad think about this?” or, “Why didn’t I get that list of phone numbers from Mom?” Though I still would like to have them available, I can get along without them. They helped eliminate my need for them.
Looking at your children this year, compared to last year, have they made progress in eliminating their need for you? Looking across the pasture to find the point of destination at this current turn, have you moved over the appropriate amount of space? In the last swath, you may have had to navigate around an obstacle, or maybe your engine ran hot and you had to get off track to get some water. But the job demands that we get back in the groove, not forgetting the task at hand of making progress in eliminating our child’s need for us.
We call that maturity, as if it is a destination to which one suddenly arrives. Just like fruit on the tree, it takes some time. And each step in the process of producing fruit is so important in the final product. Sometimes we do not see the value in the seasons, such as cold winters or hot summers. And some products take many years to produce a crop, like fruit trees.
We must not be knucklehead parents, halting the growing process. We must see the real work at hand. Cover as much of the terrain as we can, with a continued eye for progress, remembering that our job is to move closer to the point of them not needing us. For parenting is the process of eliminating our child’s need for us.