Vugt: Parenting

Arnold Van Vugt

ONCE we become parents, there is no need ever to wonder about where our priorities lie. All parents, of whatever species, raise their offspring with one central ambition: to make them independent.

We grow them to let them go; it is the crux of the matter. But letting them go is bitter-sweet, because part of us goes with them. They are the pillar of our life’ work; once we become parents, there is no need ever again to wonder about where our priorities lie.

Parenting grounds us; it helps us determine in the busyness of our “big”, grown-up lives what only matters. It turns the world on its head, because it leads us to realize that it is in the small things that the biggest realities lie.

Of course there are economic realities, and there is a luxury to having the time to concentrate fully on the needs of small children: but it is a luxury every parent should have, not an add-on for the privileged.

So we give them our all, and when they go there is a child-sized whole inside us that nothing else seems quite adequate to fill (although I am hopeful that being a grandparent, when that eventually happens, could go some way to plugging the gab). But at this point, it seems to me, our responsibility shifts from existing with them at the centre of our lives to existing without them at its centre; to being independent enough ourselves to survive without them.

Like so much in parenting, it is a delicate balance: our children need to know that are missed, because that is the reassurance that they continue to be loved, and continue to have an anchor in our home. But they must not feel so missed that our sadness at their absence is a burden: we need to let them go with lightness in their hearts, not with weights tied to their feet.

I always knew, when I got a daughter myself, that nothing in my life would surpass the joy of those times and nothing I will ever do, will be as wonderful.

A friend I once told this to said it sounded unbearably sad; I feel the opposite, that it is a source of immense happiness to know I had that time, and that I lived it knowing how vital it was. Far from reducing my expectations for the rest of my life, it raises the bar.

I have experienced the best life has to offer, and I will go on hoping to have experiences that come as close as possible, for as long as I possibly can into the future.

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