Today in the shower I was thinking about the words we use to talk about being parents. People ask, “How many children do you have?” Have? I’m not sure have is the right word here. I have a car, I have a sewing machine. These are things that I can claim as my own. I might even say that I have a partner, because, well, we really do belong to each other. But kids? When you are raising fruit you talk about raising or growing. Not that our kids are fruit. Still you wouldn’t say I have strawberries or I have apples when you are really talking about raising crops.
Maybe creating is a better metaphor. Painters don’t have their paintings. They create them. Poets write. They don’t have their poems. Again, the metaphor is weak. I don’t think that I am creating my daughter. But more like a wealthy patron, creating the environment in which she can flourish and grow into herself. (Would a patron have a musician?)
My point is we don’t really have our children. If anything, they have us. Our job isn’t to own, to control, to live our lives through our children. Our job is to create a safe, nurturing environment in which our children can become themselves. Maybe the word I'm looking for is nourish. I nourish my children. My daughter has and nourishes me.
And, since it’s something I struggle with, parenting also means letting your kids experience the feeling of frustration and disappointment. It is all too easy to try to raise children who never have to feel the feelings that we, as adults, don’t want to feel. But just as I am still learning how to lean into the difficult moments in life, I know that this is one of the best gifts that I can offer to my daughter.
So, while I want create a safe place for her to get to know herself and the world. There is also the desire to help her connect with her own resiliency, to point out her own inner resources in the face of difficulty and unpleasantness. She is lucky to have been born into a relatively easy life. My hope for her is that she learns what she needs to in order to navigate both the beauty and the adversity with dignity and grace. And to do that, I will continue to practice with my own feelings of discomfort and the endless letting go – not having – that is my parenting journey.
PS All this reminds me of Thich Nhat Hanh's essay on the relationship between the leaf and the tree. We think of the tree as being the mother, when in fact the leaf nourishes the tree and then dies, leaving the tree to live for another season.