I can firmly say that I have journeyed through the beginning, middle and end of parenting, which is to say conception through adulthood. And although I am yet in the infantile stages of adulthood with my eldest, from this vantage point, I can already see that the steps I have taken to raise my children, and the care with which I have done it, has resulted in a genuine friendship. And a friendship of choice, not one of obligation.
I am often asked for mothering and parenting advice, especially from new and expecting parents. I usually tell them that I approach life from the perspective of "knowing your end." That is, if you know the end result you are aiming for in terms of raising your loved ones, then it will be much easier to not only spot the variables that fit into the equation of achieving that result, but also -- and maybe more importantly -- much easier to spot the ones that will definitely NOT fit into it. In other words, as an extreme and obvious example, you would not set out on a journey to the moon by digging down into the earth. This process of reasoning is sometimes called "backward induction."
But sometimes the "end" we speak of is not as clear as we'd like it to be. When this is the case, I often ask those seeking my advice: What might the top five things be that would cause you to look back on your career as a parent and make you feel proud of the "work" you had done? Or what characteristics of your beloved children-turned-adults would you be most proud of? For me, is was the following (yes, I know -- I put down more than five):
- Able people with considerable skills, proficiency and intelligence
- Artists who create beauty in the world
- People who find and appreciate beauty in the world and in others
- People who value laughter and being emotive
- People who operate from their highest self and strive to be even better
- People with an interest in helping to make the world a better place
- Loved ones who are genuinely happy
- And last, but certainly not least, a truly lifelong friendship that I could share with my children
In treating our babies like our friends, rather than our "property" or some other such thing, we are more likely to gain respect from them, and respect that is truly deserved, not because "they should." But gaining the respect will be difficult if you do not also give respect. To achieve this, it's important to remember that the rules that apply to an adult also apply to a child, and the greatest difference between the two is basically no more than physical size itself. If you can remember yourself as your youngest self, you would remember you were basically the same -- just in a different time with a smaller body. Like you'd only reach your dad's knees when standing with him, or you mom's bed seemed as big as a city.
But the things that made you smile then would very likely still give you a sweet smirk and an extra heart-patter today. By the same token, the things that hurt your feelings then would likely still do so today -- because you basically are who you are, regardless of your size or age. Someone bossing you around and barking orders at you, someone yelling at you or constantly telling you what to do or not to do, regardless of size or age, would still affect you the same way. Things that upset you today wouldn't have been any less upsetting to you when you were younger. And in actual fact, those things would probably have been even more upsetting then, since you had fewer tools and less size to handle the scenario with.
So, to summarize, I believe that if you treat these lovely young treasures of yours with lots of love and respect, if you are tolerant of their abilities and their temporary "inabilities" due to the size and age of their body, and if you are compassionate with regard to them and their current situation, you will be well on the road to a lifelong friendship with your children. And if in addition to this you keep firmly in mind the ultimate goal or end result you're aiming at achieving with your children, you will have a sort of compass that will help guide you and keep you from veering too far off course in this miraculously priceless journey we call parenthood.
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