Monday, January 28, 2013

Reflections on Parenthood

I made another interesting realization last week on retreat. It was the first time I'd been away from my 8 month old daughter over night. A month or two before the baby was born and during the process of hospital visits and various classes, I told my wife that if I had to choose, at some point during the birthing process, between her life and the baby's, I'd choose her.

Obviously, this is a pretty rare and awful thing to think about - but it's all too real for some people. I imagine the appropriate warnings from medical professionals, coupled with the stress of the situation led me down that path. Some people have to make that choice. At the time, it was a no brainer.

My wife and I have been married eight years. She's the only person I've ever really dated and our relationship could be described as mildly co-dependent - at least on my end. I'm a bit of an obsessive personality and I absolutely hate change. I'm not the kind of person that needs everything planned out, but if I do plan something, you better have a really, really, really good reason to ask me to change. When I married my wife, I promised to be faithful and, at least in my head, I wasn't satisfied with "until death does us part." I love her and I plan on being married to her at least until I die, regardless of whether or not she goes first.

Compared to that, the unknown unborn child she carried, just didn't seem to match up. I wasn't about to trade in someone who's become such an important part of my life for someone I've just met and, let's face it, is awfully high maintenance.

I've told people before and even since my daughter was born, that I'm not a big fan of having kids. The idea of it is not at all appealing. They take up a lot of time and limit the options you have in life. There's also an awful lot of kids in the world already who don't have anyone to take care of them. I'm just not big on the idea of having kids. Of course, now that I have one of my own - this particular child - I'm happy to keep and be inconvenienced by and waste time on.

So, this week, while being away from my wife and daughter, I found that I missed my daughter more than I missed my wife. I chalked that up to familiarity. I've been away from my wife on numerous occasions during our marriage and she's much more capable of taking care of herself. Also, my daughter has only been alive for about 200 days - so missing two of them was a whole one percent of her life.

But in the course of pondering these things (for pondering is one of the best things to do on retreat) I came to the realization that, were the same choice presented to me now - between the life of my wife or my daughter - even though it's even more awful and even less likely, I'd choose the kid.

I recognize that this might sound demeaning or less than loving towards my wife (although I doubt she'd have even spent a tenth of the time I did before making the same decision), I think a lot of the reasons for making the choice are the same.

The baby is dependent on me. My wife depends on me greatly (and I on her), but we're not dependent on each other. The baby needs a parent. While that same line of reasoning might have been a negative before hand (I still have no idea how we'd survive if it were just two of us), it is an exciting prospect now.

This little person is new. There's a whole world she'll be discovering and I get to see it again through her eyes (with the perspective of my own). That's exciting. The same familiarity that led me to choose differently a year ago, seems much more selfish now. I would have chosen my wife for my own benefit. I would miss her and my life would be better. Now, in choosing the baby, there's much more of a focus on the other.

I've never before been in a position to influence a life so greatly - and a life that will likely live on well beyond mine. Our culture and attitude is defiantly immediate, but raising children is entirely forward-looking. The way we treat children is what gets passed on to the future as a way of life. Just as those who've gone before us have handed down wisdom to help us learn from their experiences - I have some responsibility in forming a new life.

I imagine there's a bit of selfishness there, too. The idea that I have something to contribute or pass on. That my experiences will result in benefit for my children. It's certainly not a humble position. Yet there's something ingrained in all of us that parents are the best people to raise a child. I have to think there's more than just evolution involved in that idea.

Ultimately, if there were a choice to make, I hope it would be to give my life so they both could continue - and I recognize that there really is no choice. If either my wife or my daughter were missing, life would be less good, less enjoyable, less fun. I also recognize that the nature of life and of God means things would progress, even if I lost both my wife and my daughter. There would still be purpose and there would still be love and wisdom to bestow, grace to receive.

I don't think there's a point to this particular post. Just a description, an observation. Having kids changes you - and often in ways you'd never expect. It's certainly given me pause to see and experience the world more broadly.

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