Parenting and Pain

I have not experienced anything equal to the glorious pain of childbirth. It was pain in its purist form. Moments in time when only the present existed. At that time I wanted it gone but looking back I think it was probably the only time in my life when I have felt angst-free. I believe there is brilliant reason, just out our grasp, for the existence of this pain, together with the reality of bringing a new person into the world. It almost seems necessary to have this distraction so that we can deal with the enormity of birth.

During my time at university, I knew a young man who had one war cry. He was not bringing a child into this terrible world of ours. I was already twenty-three, only two years away from the birth of my first child, and already I was mentally preparing myself. I rationalized his beliefs away as extreme and escapist and went on with my life. Now, at fifty one, I reflect on this man and can understand why someone could believe these things.

Nothing prepared me for the pain I would feel when I felt helpless to remove pain from my children. It began with something as small as their first fall and the look of surprise on their face when they realized that pain existed and that I could not protect them from it. And then time and time again, like unrelenting lava, I was faced with their pain, both physical and emotional. Often they would beseech me for answers, drowning in their own sense of helplessness. Finally, I asked the same question that my friend had posed all those years ago. “I brought them into the world, for this?” I often say that I have learned more from my children than I have taught. This has possibly been my greatest lesson. I fundamentally realize that everyone is responsible for their own pain and their own path. Pain is not a bad thing. Our most important and most valuable understandings are brought about through suffering. “The truth will set us free”. We all know this phrase but perhaps don’t understand the perfect correctness of it. All I’ve ever wanted for my children is for them to be happy and have often been devastated when my desire alone has not accomplished this. I realize now in later years that my focus has been misplaced. We can’t want them to be happy, we have to teach them how to be happy. We have to teach them to recognize their feelings. We have to teach them the real feeling behind an action, no matter how negative it may seem. And we have to teach them that they and they alone are responsible for their feelings. A child who breaks his toy needs to understand that he’s feeling angry, as well as feelings of loss and sadness.