A few years back, before love, marriage and children rudely interrupted, I was working with my favorite client on a profile of her company. One afternoon, we were meeting with a freelance writer and the conversation turned to children and parenthood.
The writer asked if I had kids. I was just newly married and still honeymooning. He remarked that I would understand the conversation better when I had some. I was incredibly offended. What could a child teach me about life? I was finally an official adult – on my own, a good man at my side, making my own choices. I knew how life worked.
I’d like to give that 20-something me a whack to the back of the head. Now, I do indeed get it.
Children. Change. Everything.
It’s not cliche. It’s truth.
Catholics often talk about the power of giving one’s life for another, as Jesus did. I’m never going to achieve that level of love-giving, but I think being a parent is as close to that as I may ever come. It’s not about death and dying for love. It’s about putting yourself last and someone else first -not in the same way you do with a man or woman you love, but in making someone else’s life your responsibility.
Parenting is one of the greatest opportunities God gives us to “die to self.” I think this is the reason many (not all) people today don’t want children. I personally never really understood this concept until I was faced with it directly. When you have a child, you decide if she lives or dies, thrives or struggles, eats or starves. If you truly love the child, you put its needs before all of yours – physical, emotional, spiritual, social.
I have wrestled with this and continue to fight demons of self-centeredness everyday. That’s another blog post. But my daughters have changed me in ways I never dreamed possible. For instance, if you’ve known me a long time, you might be surprised how conservative I’ve become. I know I am. Eight short years ago, I was lobbying friends to vote for Hillary Clinton. I thought she’d be a good president because she was a mother. Today, I wouldn’t vote for her for all the money in the world because I’m a mother.
Two high-risk pregnancies that required sonograms every two weeks taught me to hate abortion. The horror of 9/11 taught me the fragility of our freedoms. Having had my career destroyed by office politics and watching my girls face bullies as early as preschool has me instilling a healthy caution about others’ motives.
My kids hear about American history more than they want to – I demand they understand how regular people sacrificed and struggled for what they take for granted. Recently, I beamed with pride when my daughter started her own petition for something she wanted to see happen in her school. My husband and I are what some people call strict – not because we’re mean, but because we care. We’re trying to raise respectful Catholic Americans.
Sunday morning, after the sting of ISIS’s attacks on Paris, my eyes welled talking to my Deacon after Mass. I told him I wasn’t sure I could explain the world away to my children any longer. I was angry that my younger daughter had been scared of ISIS even before Paris – now she doesn’t want to sleep. At Catholic school they’re taught to love others. What would they think if they knew some considered them “extremists” not unlike terrorists? My older daughter asked me why no one is protecting the people of the world. I had no answer. And she has no faith in our leaders.
I want ISIS dealt with. I want fiscal responsibility from my elected officials. I want people in my country to stop blaming other people for their problems. I want them to stop claiming ownership of what other people earn. I want respect for all life and all belief systems – even the ones I don’t like. But most of all, I want the ideals of America preserved for my children, so they may live free and safe.
And should my girls decide in their teens or early 20s to eschew the more traditional values we are using to sustain them into adulthood, well, so be it. We all rebel as we grow – I know I did and my parents are why I survived. I will no longer hold responsibility for the girls’ lives when they’re grown. It will hurt to see them struggle. They too will have their own experiences and will think they get it just fine, thank you.
Should they have children of their own, they may also find the need to step up their game, as I did. It’s our own experiences after all that teach us to be cautious when someone else’s life and future are in our unsteady hands. Loving another person more than yourself, wanting someone to have it better than you had, makes some of us, even the rebels, seek tradition, truth, and stability.