At least a few times a day, I find myself acting or speaking in a way I swore I never would -- like a parent. Like my parents, more specifically. It still surprises me every time, as I remember being a child and promising myself I would do things differently. That was, of course, because I was only viewing the situation from my own childish perspective.
I didn't get it then.
It's taken 30+ years of life, marriage and two kids to really understand what my parents have done -- and are still doing -- for me. Here are a few of the decisions, actions and sacrifices they made that I only comprehended after becoming a parent myself.
When they said, "You'll understand when you're older," they were right! I get it now. All of it. And despite my many promises to myself that I would not agree with their decisions when I grew up, I do. I agree wholeheartedly and actually thank them for being brave enough to make those tough decisions that often angered me when I was younger; they were doing their job and being my parents instead of my friend.
They didn't like saying "no," either. They didn't say it to be mean or lord their power over me. They really were looking out for me. It was not fun for them to have to say "no" and be the bad guy, but they would rather I be safe and grow up to be a decent person than get my way all the time and grow up to be... well, we all know someone who fits that bill.
They let me fail out of love. It sucked for them to watch me make mistakes and fail, whether I came up just short or missed the mark by a mile, but they respected the fact that sometimes it's the best -- or only -- way to learn and mature. However, they never let me fail all alone; they were always nearby and available to help me recover and move forward.
They knew when I was lying to them. Maybe not every time, but a hell of a lot more often than I thought. I wasn't as clever as I thought I was at 3, 13 or 23. Although some battles are certainly worth fighting, some are not; many times, I misinterpreted then letting something small fly by as a "win" for me, when in reality it was anything but.
My mother never had alone time. EVER. She had three kids, a husband, friends and a job. If she was lucky enough to find 10 minutes to read in bed at night, she promptly fell asleep from exhaustion. That does not count as alone time. I had to experience this myself before I realize what it really feels like to be exhausted.
They hurt more than I did whenever I was sad, sick or injured. There are few things worse in the world than watching someone you love suffer and not being able to take it away. The feeling is 100% worse when it's your own child whose is hurting in some way.
They let me be me. They gave me a lot of freedom within limits, which is all I could really hope for. I made plenty of decisions that were probably quite different than what they would have chosen for me -- I vividly remember the hesitation on their faces when I told them I wanted to major in English, Creative Writing -- but so long as I was not harming myself or others, they didn't stop me from expressing myself. I absolutely took that for granted, and what a gift to be able to do so!
They kept me blissfully naive. They never lied to me, but they never allowed me to worry unnecessarily. Whether our family was in a time of plenty or in need, I never really felt the difference. I was always surrounded by love and security, so I just took it for granted that I'd always be OK. This is an amazing gift my parents gave -- the sense of a secure, happy, and loving childhood.
I aspire to give my children all of the above, realizing that they may or may not ever fully recognize all I have done for them. It doesn't matter. Parenting isn't a collection of accolades and "thank you's"; it is unconditional, no-strings-attached, never-ending love for your children. Period.