The real reason why parenting sucks.
This morning, my child was yelling at me through the bathroom door. She wanted me to do the dirty work for her, convinced she might miss something. Half of me wanted to yell and scream at her, telling her that she’s more than old enough to wipe her own backside. The other half of me wanted to just end this argument by going in and capitulating.
I’m sick of the phrase “Pick your battles”. What does that even mean when parenting feels like a constant stream of battles?
It more than feels like a constant stream of battles, it is a constant stream of battles. That’s the real reason why parenting sucks. But, facing these battles is the most important thing you can do to raise your child.
A Character Who Wants Something
In any story, whether it’s a book, movie, or other media, it starts with a character. That character typically wants something: they want happiness, they want meaning, they want safety, they want to live. But, all storytellers know that if you give the character what they want immediately, it’s not realistic. They know this, because as human beings, the things we want most require us to experience conflict. Loving relationships, meaningful work, a way to express our passion into the world, or starting our dream business that’s going to make the world a better place all require us to move through extensive external and internal conflict. And, as human beings, we do everything we can to naturally avoid conflict.
The Guide shows the way
So, if your character has to move through conflict to get what they really want, but they avoid the conflict at all costs, how does a writer get the character to take action? They introduce a guide. It’s the guide who helps the character believe that there is a path to the other side of the conflict. Obi-wan Kenobi helped Luke Skywalker see that there is a way to become a jedi without giving into the dark side. Beymax showed Hero that there was a non-violent solution to his pain. Princess Celestia forced Twilight Sparkle to make friendships, knowing that this is the only way for her to develop her full potential.
It’s the guide who can see where the character is today,where they want to be in the future, and the path to get there. They see this journey, without all of the emotional baggage that comes from a direct experience of that gap.
As parents, we are the guide
Our dream as parents is that our children will grow up to become self-confident, and self-actualized. We want them to be able to face their life with strength, courage and conviction that they have what it takes to create success, however they choose to define it. My gut tells me that this is what they want too (even though their current actions seem to suggest against it). But, our kids are born helpless.
We begin their life by taking care of all of their needs, because it’s the right thing to do. But, as they grow, they need to start developing their own skills. In time, we help them learn to eat on their own, to get dressed on their own, to read and write, to make friends, and yes, to go to the bathroom on their own. In order to become self-confident and self-actualized individuals, our kids have to develop skills and strengths in all areas of their lives. And, those first steps of developing new skills and strengths suck.
Think about yourself: what are the things you say you can’t do? Dancing? Public Speaking? Drawing? Running a marathon? Quitting your job and finding work you love? As adults we just avoid these things, because those first few steps are hard. We don’t want to feel stupid or weak. We avoid the risk of failure. We avoid feeling that gap between who we are, and who we want to be. But, experiencing that gap between desire and skills is the first step in doing something that was previously “impossible” to us. As adults, our brains are developed enough that we can imagine the future and know why we are choosing to experience this conflict. Our kids, who are naturally little buddhists, are all in the moment. The future is irrelevant. So, that conflict you want them to experience, that gap between what you want and what they can do today, hurts. Literally. They expect a high probability of failure, so their brain cuts off the supply of dopamine. Their amygdala starts to sing, warning them of failure and the cost of failure.
This is mental anguish, and we’re the ones creating it in our children.
The only way through it is to be present with them in the conflict, and hold them there until they learn that they can do it. You’re not only picking the battle, you’re firing bullets at them until they learn to duck for cover.
Parenting sucks, because with all the love and good wishes we have for our kids, we have to make them suffer. It’s the only way they can grow up into self-actualized, and self-confident adults who can make the world a better place.
Parenting sucks, because it forces us to move through conflict. Parenting makes us face our fear of conflict, and learn to accept it. We are challenged to learn to be present in conflict without emotion. Our children become a guide to us, teaching us how to become stronger adults. And in the end, those of us who learn to do this with compassion and grace, will be all the better for it in life, in relationships, and at work.