There generally isn’t a simple or single answer with any issue as much as we’d like one. And we’re not going to solve complex problems in a single 300-page book, let alone a 750-word opinion column like this one.
Take parenting for instance. The title of the new book by New York Magazine contributing Editor Jennifer Senior entitled “All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood” (Ecco/Harper-Collins Publishers) implies parenting is supposed to be “fun” or was more “fun” in the past. Whoever said parenting was supposed to be fun as Collins implies?
Fun or not, parenting is hard work. While there certainly can be and often are glimpses of fun enjoyed by parents, “fun” was not intended to, is not, nor should it be a word associated with parenthood.
Instead, words that should be tied to raising kids are words we use far too little today in every aspect of our lives, let alone parenting, including: sacrifice, obligation, honor, devotion, duty, responsibility, prayer, patience and accountability.
But too few of us associate these “un-fun” words with parenting anymore. This fact is one reason modern parenting is more difficult then parenting in the past. Our expectations have changed unreasonably from selflessness to self.
Some other reasons? One is our growing addiction for instant gratification fueled by the availability of instant information at our fingertips from the web. If it doesn’t happen NOW, we’re not happy. Except for poopy diapers and rolling eyes, little happens instantly in raising kids. There’s no app for that.
Another reason is access to, and our irrational interest in, information about celebrities, entertainers, and those famous for being famous — those that live these (so-called) excellent lives — lives to which we compare our own apparently less excellent lives. They, the elite, pampered with nannies, private schools, accommodating work schedules, money to burn, and beautiful, perfect kids fashionably dressed in Baby Gap. We burdened with — well — snotty-nosed, ungrateful kids in mismatched Wal-Mart socks who take up too much of our valuable time from work and hold us back from fun, career success, you name it.
So while there is no one, single reason why parenting is tougher in the 21st century, there actually is an overarching reason. Selfishness.
Life isn’t about us. It just isn’t. While we’d like it to be about us and often try to make it about us, it’s not about us.
And just like life isn’t about us, neither is parenting about the parents. It’s selfish to think and act otherwise.
Not to oversimplify the trials and tribulations of modern parenting or the theme of Collins’ book, but we need a longer, broader view. Rather than one of Collins’ reasons for “funless” parenting being that, “Parents no longer raise children for the family’s sake or that of the broader world,” we need a reawakening of our reason for existence as parents. We parent for the world, not for us or even our kids.
We’re supposed to grow up and outgrow the belief that life is about us — that we’re the center of the universe. We’re supposed to learn that our lives exist not to build our own excellent existence or even our kids’ so much, as to work hard teaching them to prepare a better place for the next generation and the generation after that. Moreover, we’re supposed to have learned and then teach our kids that the blessing of life is intended not to be a blessing for ourselves but for others.
Parenting never was intended to be fun. Yet neither is it a trap. Parenting is, instead, best described as a weapon in defense of our future.
We learn about parenting — modern or otherwise — best, I think, from Kahil Gibran, author of “The Profit” (Random House). Gibran wrote to parents in words as fresh today as they were first written in 1923: “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself. They come through you but are not from you, and though they are with you, yet they belong not to you. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow which you cannot visit. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
“The Archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite and he bends you (parents serving as the bow) to his might that his arrows may go swift and far.”
Given they are worked, honed, and tempered straight and true I might add.
Fine. Parenthood isn’t fun. But when we accept that parenting isn’t about us, its enjoyment isn’t the point. We devote ourselves to the task, bend to the Archer’s pull, let loose our arrows, and are content.
Barry Fetzer is a columnist for the Havelock News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.