We all want the best for our children, and for a lot of us that means working hard to provide the roof over their heads, in the right school district, going to sporting events, paying for music lessons (oh soo many extracurriculars), summer camp where all their friends go, and a long list of others things we hope to make them happy. It’s what we do.
In many senses our children are an extension of us; our hopes and dreams for the future but also our prejudices. Sometimes we project the baggage from our own lives and childhood on them. We want to give them what we didn’t have growing up and we want to be better but ironically, we also fall into patterns that are familiar and engrained long before we could rationalize why. We are all human and being human is hard, and being a parent to another small human is an imperfect art.
I love that expression about the nights being long and the years being short. As a new mother, lying awake in the middle of the night with a baby strapped to your chest, exhausted, overwhelmed, and barely holding on your sanity, the seconds crawl by. But also during those long nights, you have moments when you look down at your baby’s sweet face as they smile, and there’s so much clarity and beauty that it makes it truly worth it. On one of these nights when my daughter was a baby, I asked myself, ‘what is the most important thing I want to give my child?” I didn’t know how to answer it then, but the question stayed with me, and it felt significant to me as a new mother to find the answer to this question for myself.
By exploring honestly what I had wanted from my own parents growing up, I came to the realization that what we all want is to be loved and accept for who we really are. I feel that the biggest gift a parent can give their child are the words “I love you and accept you, no matter what.’ It is also the greatest form of respect and opens the door to honestly and trust. Loving someone for who they are, even if it means giving up the ghost of who we wish they were is a gift. Maybe that means accepting when your child wants to give up on a sport they don’t like, or accepting that they won’t be valedictorian, or not pushing your shy child to just be more outgoing. It’s about knowing that you will be by their side in life no matter how they look, what they like, what they believe and how they ultimately choose to live their life. We won’t always agree with them, but as parents we teach them what we believe is right and support them on their journey.
It is not all about what we can give them, but also about what we say that really makes for a happy childhood.