I recently led a girl scout hike at Eden Mill Nature Center and one of the themes we discussed different reproductive strategies. For example, frogs lay hundreds of eggs each year but the parent frogs never spend a moment with their young. The eggs are basically left to their own devices when they are laid and the ensuing tadpoles must fend for themselves as they begin their journey to adulthood. Birds, as another example, lay many fewer eggs but protect the eggs and raise the young from their hatching date until they are fledged. In some cases the young spend the whole first year with one or both of their parents learning and preparing for life on their own.. Deer carry their young until birth, typically having just one or two babies, and tend to them very closely as they grow.
As you can see from this pattern, it seems that the number of eggs/young is inversely proportional to the care that is given by the parents. Humans of course take this care thing to an extreme as we raise and care for our children for many, many years. Of course proportionally, if a parent cares for a child until it is 20 that is only roughly one quarter of its life, a similar proportion to a deer caring for its young for a year. However, as my kids are just beginning to reach their teen years and I am now looking down the road and college and adulthood, it has begun to dawn on me that I will never be free from worry for them. When they were young I kind of thought that they would grow up and leave me to start lives of their own and I would somehow be relieved of worry for their well being..Now it seems that I have come to the realization that I will never not worry about them, their safety, their stability, their happiness.
Wow, that realization hit me like a lead balloon. In realizing this I find myself almost frozen with fear. How can I possibly survive the tremendous load of worry and fear that will surely follow as they date, go to college, get heartbroken, get jobs, lose jobs, get married, get divorced, and have kids of their own only to start another cycle of worry.
Now I am not complaining, but being someone’s child is clearly much easier than being someone’s parent. Sure there are those sparkling moments when your daughter smiles and tells you that she loves your or your son actually expresses that he happy that you are his dad (or mom), but in between those moments are lots of worry and fear and frustration. How can I possibly raise my kids to be self sufficient when they can’t even make their beds in the morning without being reminded ten times? How can I teach them to be kind and considerate then they laugh when a sibling trips and hurts themselves? How can I hope that they will become responsible adults when they deny spilling milk on the floor even as their socks are soaked in the stuff, they have a half empty glass of milk in their hands, and no one else is in the house but us?
I often think now about my parents and how they survived my sisters and I. The battles and feuds, the failed tests, the tears and the yelling, all of the ups and the downs of life. Even now, how do they survive from one day to the next while still having to worry not just about their own lives but those of us kids (and now grandkids) too?
Somehow all of this never dawned on me when I was in the process of starting a family. It seemed natural, easy to bring kids into my life. I just never thought about the worry and the fear that they may not become civilized or educated or hireable.
Perhaps I am thinking too much about this. I mean really, I have seen some really dumb people raise reasonable well functioning children to adults. Perhaps it is not so hard as it seems if you just let go and let grow. The kids all seem to just want to be left alone to their own devices anyway. They seem to have all the answers, all the time. Maybe I am just asking the wrong questions. Maybe they do have some internal map that guides them from ungrateful and uncaring siblings to reasonable and compassionate adults.
I suppose the secret to happy parenting is to know that somehow, through all our mistakes, through all their tantrums, through all the worry and the doubts that the kids will be ok. Most people are. I guess that in the end the best we can do is just that. I can only teach what I know and give what I have.
As the kids grow older I am going to try and memorialize the precious moments when joy and happiness rule and let all those other moments of frustration and anger and fear and worry fall to the side. I realize that the road shoulders of my life will be littered with lots and lots of events, but I will keep my eyes set on the horizon and the sunny days that lie ahead when all the kids are bathing in happiness and joy.