Since 1956, Children’s Day is celebrated across India to increase awareness of the rights, care and education of children on November 14th every year. As a result, I was motivated to share my experiences about becoming a parent, the responsibilities and challenges involved in raising children.
As a father, parenting is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. Several years ago, twenty-seven to be exact, just two days after we got married, my wife’s aunt asked me, “When are you going to have kids?”
It’s a common question for newlyweds, and maybe not entirely appropriate, but you know how family members can be. I responded to her, slightly taken aback, saying, “I’m not ready to be a parent!” I was young and I just did not feel prepared to raise a child. She was outraged and responded with, “Of course you’re ready. Parenting comes automatically!” I told her that was not true¾and immediately launched into all the reasons why I did not feel ready, none of which convinced her one bit.
Think about her comment: “Parenting comes automatically.” Many people believe that the skill of parenting is an inherent one; that it just comes naturally. I believe this is a myth. Procreation may be a natural instinct, but parenting is a whole different thing.
In a sense, our culture endorses this myth. We require people to get a license in order to get married. Two adults who want to try to make a life together have to go through the process of getting licensed and make it official that they are spouses. We require licenses for a number of other things, such as becoming a foster parent or to adopt a child. We even need a license to drive.
But we have no checks and balances for becoming a biological parent. Why is that? No one needs a license to be a mom or dad¾and yet, parenting is the highest responsibility for anyone, even more of a responsibility than being a spouse.
Research indicates that a child’s earliest days and years of growth are the most important for his or her future stability. According to the World Health Organization, “The early years are critical, because this is the period in life when the brain develops most rapidly and has a high capacity for change, and the foundation is laid for health and well-being throughout life. Nurturing care—defined as care that is provided in a stable environment, that is sensitive to children’s health and nutritional needs, with protection from threats, opportunities for early learning, and interactions that are responsive, emotionally supportive and developmentally stimulating—is at the heart of children’s potential to develop.” https://www.who.int/topics/early-child-development/en/
The guidance and support that parents provide throughout life, but especially during these formative years, sets the stage for the future well-being of their child.
But what if parents are not at the right place in their lives to provide adequate guidance and support? I knew I wasn’t, even at the age of 30, two days after my wedding. When you think about someone’s well-being, what are we talking about? There are really three areas of health: the physical, the social and the emotional.
I do think there is a natural maternal or paternal instinct when it comes to providing for a child’s physical well-being. But the responsibility for a child’s overall health and growth goes way beyond the physical. And it takes hard work and real experience to be able to nurture another human being socially and emotionally.
You remember the old proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” That’s very true: there needs to be extra effort and involvement for a child’s social well-being. Many young people who may be parents or considering having children may not have an adequate social support system in place.
And perhaps more critical is emotional health. If parents are not emotionally calm; if they are yelling, stressed out, rushed, or facing any number of challenging emotional situations, this will dramatically impact their children. Children model their parents and they will pick up on these emotions. “Monkey see, monkey do,” as they say. Given the state of our current world, with so many people feeling overworked and stressed, it takes that much more effort to raise a “healthy” child.
I recall asking a friend of mine a few months ago, a year after his divorce, “How are you your kids doing?” He replied, “Great! Their grades are good; I guess they are doing fine.” But grades alone are not a measure of a child’s overall well-being. It’s not enough to use one proxy or one area to measure how your children are faring socially or emotionally. It’s an incomplete picture and it doesn’t mean that the child has no other challenges.
Have you heard of the wonderful poem titled The Dash by Linda Ellis? It’s well worth a read, or a re-read, and you can find the entire poem here. The poem reminds us that what matters most is that dash between one’s birth year and death year, because that represents a person’s entire life. It’s just a little line, but it represents so much because the “dash” is your life!
For many people, parenting is a huge part of their “dash.” How you raise a child will dramatically impact the quality of his or her “dash!” The key here is really not where we need to impose a license to be a parent. That is not the point I’m trying to make. But I do want to encourage you to take the time and reflect on the skills and temperament necessary to be a parent before embarking on the adventure and enormous responsibility of shaping the “dash” of your child’s life.