A Little Extra Love, Just in Case
It seems a pity that the human body cannot proclaim its emotional illness or health by raising or lowering its temperature. Even a minor cold is reflected by an increase of one's temperature and, no matter how insignificant the illness, a fever will bring forth care and sympathy. But not so with an emotional upset. Here, more often than not, all but the most major difficulties are ignored.
Nowhere is this more true than in the lives of our children. Should a child develop a fever, all kinds of measures are taken to insure his comfort and improvement. No one would think of telling a child to "behave himself and get rid of the flu." We would consider it insane for a parent to punish a child because he had measles. To "run a fever" forces the parent to take actions which will improve the child's health.
What a blessing it would be if there were a "thermometer" to measure the emotional health of our children. We who rush to our children's assistance when they have a fever, might then also rush to our children's aid when they signal a lack of love, or wonder, or appreciation. If there were a way to alert us to a growing emotional difficulty, surely we would be better parents and better friends to our children.
But there is no "thermometer for the emotions," and we are left to gauge as best we can the emotional well-being of our children. Surely this is a condition as important as their physical well-being. Since there is no method for measuring our children's emotional needs, perhaps it would be wise for us to offer them a little extra love, a little extra care, and a little extra understanding, just in case.
We expect so much from our children. Our expectations lead us to convey an insensitivity which is a burden upon our offspring and unfair to ourselves. We adults are not cruel or unfeeling, but we often act as if we were by allowing our expectations to guide our actions.
We expect our children to be responsible, learned and significant individuals, and we work our, and their, fingers to the bone in efforts to meet these expectations. No one discounts the worthiness of our desires, but we may question the priority. Might not we and our children build a more satisfying and enduring society if our first expectation was their happiness?
We are so concerned that our children be responsible, mature and intelligent, we often overlook their happiness. But happiness may be the key to the successful life. Frequently we consider happiness to be an incidental side-effect, but what goal is more to be desired?
What a wonderful legacy it would be if we were to expect our children to be happy. It might be that once happiness was achieved other values such as responsibility, maturity and intelligence would follow.
It's difficult to tell someone who has never had the experience what it is like to be a parent. We don't want to be cynical and list only the problems, nor do we want to be sentimental and recite only joys. We try to present a balanced view providing a fair share of both difficulties and thrills. If we are true to ourselves, it is likely that we will conclude by claiming that parenthood is one of the wonders and rewards of human life.
And so it is. We, however, should note that in the midst of the fun and fulfillment, along with the complexities and labors there is a goodly share of outright terror. There are sleepless nights, nagging fears, and the churning notion that tragedy is just beyond our sight. It may be that we will be lucky enough to escape the tragedy and the terror has no basis in fact. But terrible things do happen, and our worst fears are possible realities.
Regardless of the terror, we, like our forebears behind us and our prodigy before us, still willingly praise parenthood. We know the threatening Furies, but love makes the suffering tolerable. We will work on the problems, labor to transform the difficulties into potentials, keep the fear under some control, live with the terror that inhabits our quiet moments, and weep until our tears run dry, because love finally enables us to be parents.
Parenthood is pain and terror and suffering, but most of all it is love. In the midst of all which hurts
and in spite of the tears, the awareness that we have loved and have been loved is reward enough.
Excerpted from Notes on an Unhurried Journey. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1993.