Sound familiar? That is not my life . . . well, at least not exactly. But I can remember a time when I was stuck in a sense of what I got out of parenting, focused on what was "in it for me." I needed to cook and clean . . . I needed to play "on demand" . . . I needed to get them a glass of hot cocoa or a waffle at 2:00am, and then I needed to clean it up. But when was it my turn? When do I get to have something for me? When do we get to the point where my kids are grateful for what I do for them each day, where they thank me for it and begin to take some responsibility for their own well-being? Isn't that only fair? I sacrifice so much, give so much of my time and heart, and I deserve to be listened to, obeyed, and thanked for those sacrifices. It is only fair.
Or is it?
I believe that the degree to which we enjoy life depends less on what we experience than how we choose to experience it. Bad things happen, of course, and some of those things present obstacles in our paths to enjoyment that can be difficult, if not impossible, to overcome. But in the main, we choose how to frame our experiences, how to view the events that happen to us in ways that can bring us joy or or bring us pain. Parenting is no different.
When I became a parent, I had a vision of how it would all turn out. I just knew that if we could stick to a well-designed plan in terms of how we parented and how we lived our lives, that each day would just get better and better and our kids would be raised to be, well, perfect adults. Of course, the only way that would work is if my children listened to me, if they allowed me to set the course and ensure that they stuck to it. If they refused, well, that's where things got a bit hazy. But they wouldn't refuse, I thought, because that's not how parenting works - they would follow my deeds and words because that's simply what kids did.
As time went on - and once I actually became a parent as opposed to just talking about it - things changed quite a bit. Parenting is not about a consistent, upward trajectory in terms of anything - their development, your development, or anything else. It is not about obeying or controlling. But it is about trusting, loving, comforting, supporting, communicating, and being available always and in all ways, unconditionally and without expectations of reciprocity. But oh, how hard that can be - especially if we lack perspective.
As a parent - as an adult - as a human being- we have a tremendous amount of choice about whether we chose to frame things as good or bad. I'm not talking about minute to minute, Law of Attraction stuff, where we stay in the moment and treat every circumstance with a ray of sunshine and a bandoleer full of puppy dog tails. No, in those moments we are often powerless to have the perfect frame of mind and the perfect response, and even though we strive for better we still have bad moments, and sometimes bad days. But we do have choice over the long haul about how we approach interacting with our children. We can view our children as children, trying to navigate through the world and through their own emotions, rather than as mini-adults who should be hitting milestones on time and in form. We can view difficult challenges as necessary steps toward growth, rather than as good or bad. And we can view our own roles as supporters and facilitators, rather than focus on whether or not our children are behaving in ways that meet our own needs and that account for our desires to be treated fairly, the way we deserve.
I have a tremendous amount of latitude to determine how I define what is and is not fair for me as a parent. If I think of fairness in traditional terms - my expectations of how I should be treated with a quid pro quo level of respect, based on my sacrifices - then I have set my children up with the impossible challenge of having to meet my own expectations of what I feel like I deserve. This is such a huge trap, that so many parents fall into. But the truth is that when you feel like your sacrifices are sacrifices, as opposed to blessings of your time and energy that you have been able to gift to your children, you tend to feel entitled to some measure of respect. I have said this before and I will say it again: As a parent, you are entitled to nothing but a tax deduction and your name on a birth certificate. The rest you have to earn, even though it may never take the form you feel that you feel you deserve.
If you can get to a place with no expectations of how your kids should worship you because of all you do for them, you can get to a place where you actually see how fair your life really is. Maybe they don't help you clean, or maybe they don't seem that grateful when you make their favorite dinner or save money to buy them a special treat. But maybe they are repaying you in other ways by providing you with opportunities that you - and they - probably don't even recognize. Before you think that they are not being fair, think about these gifts that you do receive:
- Is it not fair that you get to spend time with your children?
- Is it not fair that you get to comfort them when they are sad or afraid?
- Is it not fair that you get to watch them learn and grow, sometimes try and fail, before your very eyes?
- Is it not fair that you get to share activities, moments, glances, and words with them?
- Is it not fair that they trust you enough to be emotional around you, even when that emotion puts them at their most ugly and vulnerable?
- Is it not fair that your children trust you to provide a safety net and a supportive atmosphere for their thoughts and dreams?
- Is it not fair that they let you - want you to - play with them, to show you things that they are interested in?
- Is it not fair that they are able to show you or tell you when they would rather have some distance?