“Children laugh an average of three hundred or more times a day; adults laugh an average of five times a day. We have a lot of catching up to do.” ― Heather King
“The soul is healed by being with children.” — Fyodor Dostoyevsky
A piece of parenting advice my wife and I received nearly 20 years ago from a dear friend went like this: “There is beauty in every age, so appreciate its uniqueness while you’ve got it.” She was responding to my frustration over parents with older children constantly saying to us, “Sure, they’re cute now. But you just wait until they become teenagers! You’ll see.” I swore I would never say that to other parents, and have kept that promise. Having lived through four teenagers, I certainly ‘get’ the challenges that are unique to the teen years. But I can say with our friend these years later: there is indeed beauty in every age.
As we have been spending lots of concentrated time with our daughters this week on our vacation (sadly, our sons had to work), three things have occurred to me in this regard. I’ll speak for myself, though I would guess Patti would echo my thoughts.
First, I enjoy being with our children more than with (save my wife) anyone else. Though we obviously have various conflicts that arise over various things, I never ever tire of being with them, of doing things with them. They have brought unparalleled joy into my life and have made me smile more than any other single thing. There seems to be in that a certain desirable definition of family.
Second, seeing your children develop their own unique personality, gifts and interests is just an astonishing privilege. And seeing them surpass me in so many ways is a thrill I could never have anticipated. You find yourself wanting them to fly higher, run faster, be smarter, love God more than you ever could. And that’s not some saintly selflessness, it’s just the genetic code written into fatherhood and motherhood: “They must increase, we must decrease.”
Third, parenting has the power to carve out a genuine humility in your soul. Wow. Oh my. As my children enter and approach adulthood, I can now assess in hindsight my parenting successes and failures. Dear God. No false humility needed here, as the real thing awaits you in truck loads. Patti says that every night as we kneel at the side of our bed, she prays: “God, please supply for all my failures today, repair any damage I may have caused and use any good I did for their welfare.” Amen. Children pull you out of yourself, call out virtues you did not know even existed, remind you of the virtues you lack, stretch you, pound you, pass you through fire, decimate your sleep, hold a mirror back in your face (yikes!), keep you honest, teach you how to love hard and deep and long. They make you learn to pray again, anew, with them, for them, about them, “out of the depths.” And they plunge your marriage into the refiner’s fire, making you realize you never really knew what it meant to be “one” until they were thrust between you and proceeded to school you in a thousand and one ways to be one.
Patti often says, “On our wedding day we thought we loved each other more than we ever could. We knew nothing!” You ain’t kidding.
I have shared here before that a woman I know with a special needs son (along with her four other children) once said to me, “I never knew how self-centered I was until he was born. And then he, so patiently, taught me to love. If I am ever saved, get to heaven, it will be because he taught me how to get there. How to love.” How clear it is that the more our culture exalts the cult of the self, the less children will be welcome in our world.
Patti has always loved to repeat to people Elizabeth Stone’s quote: “Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”
Yes. Exactly. The risk of loving someone you unconditionally invest everything into and then have to unconditionally let go of.
Last night Patti had to return to Metairie for choir practice, so I spent the evening alone with the girls. We played the game Set, listened to music, ate dinner and watched the movie, “What About Bob?” As I sat there with them laughing, I was overcome with deep emotion. Tears streamed down my face with gratitude. How was I chosen by God to raise these children? My sons, my daughters. Our sons, our daughters. His sons, His daughters. If I died at that moment and entered heaven, I would not have noticed the change.