Being a parent is hard. In fact, I think if we had full disclosure beforehand, most of us would balk. Parents put in long hours for little reward. We clean up vomit and snot and poop with not so much as a "thank you" from the little tyrants that call us "mom" and "dad". It's way harder than I imagined it would be (back when I was young and knew everything).
Sure there are some moments that are fulfilling, like the first smile (although it's probably just gas) or the first time your baby says, "mama" ( although probably because they want food or something), or those first wobbly steps (probably toward something priceless and breakable), or when they graduate from high school (Yes! We finally made it!). But the vast majority of our parenting careers will be spent doing what I think of as drudge work. Drudge work includes the endless diaper changes, the countless loads of laundry, the boo-boos bandaged, the thousands of reminders to tie their shoes, the pain of helping with Algebra homework. It's the day to day task of parenting that make up a good 90% of our contribution to raising human beings that are fit to venture out into society. It's thankless, it's exhausting, and it's anything but glamorous.
After a while, we kinda learn to do this drudge work blindfolded. It doesn't take a lot of gray matter to do this stuff. I'm pretty sure a monkey could do it (or if you've got the income, a nanny working for slightly more than minimum wage). But there's the really big stuff, too. Things that are tough but necessary. Separate from the drudge work, but stuff that is about as fun as oral surgery without anesthesia. Like helping your teenage son deal with the heartache of a nasty relationship breakup (Given the choice, I'd choose the oral surgery. Although, I would have gone through a dozen oral surgeries to have spared him the pain.)
The point is, the really cool, fun, fulfilling stuff that we dream parenting should be are few and far between. (I mean like, from here to Jupiter far between). And in between, is crammed all of this not-so-cool, not-so-fun, not-so-fulfilling stuff.
Parenting is an awfully thankless job. In fact, sometimes it's downright wretched and miserable. I completely understand why parents might need to seek fulfillment and a sense of appreciation outside of their home, because they aren't likely to find it from their offspring, which are too busy being demanding of our time and financial resources to hand out words of encouragement.
A few days ago, I ran into a friend of mine, a mom with more than the average number of children (by some standards a large family). On more than one occasion we had commiserated about moody teenagers and other such things parents console each other over. She announced to me that she had returned to school pursuing a degree in something-or-other, engaged in some form of higher education.
"I just want my kids to be proud of me," she told me.
Ok. Sounds like a noble pursuit, doesn't it? And perhaps it is. But something about that statement nagged at me in the back of brain. It just didn't sit right for some reason. And then right in the middle of simultaneously stirring dinner, telling one kid to take out the trash and another to be nice to his sister, it hit me...
It's not the job of my children to be my cheerleaders. It's my job to be theirs.
It's not their job to be proud of me. It's my job to be proud of them.
Yeah, folding laundry, and preparing gourmet peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and making sure they wash behind their ears, and reminding them to walk (not run) indoors and to remember their manners and not to ride the dog like a small horse....these aren't things that are supposed to make them feel pride in their mother. Neither is tucking them in at night, or reading bedtime stories, or holding their hand while they cry over some monstrous hurt. And cheering them on during a little league game, or posting their report cards or awesome artwork to the front of the refrigerator aren't supposed to invoke a sense of pride either (not a sense of pride in their parents, anyway. Hopefully, a sense of pride in themselves, however).
But maybe it will make them feel loved and valuable. Maybe they will think of everything that mom puts up with and realize that I think they are worth it, every temper tantrum and broken vase and slammed door. Perhaps when life gets tough (and it inevitably will), because I set aside my own comfort or my own pursuits to be there and smile and hug them and love them unconditionally, they will feel a sense of personal worth. Because I truly treasure them above my own life. They are that important and lustrous and magnificent to me.
Someday, when these little midgets are all grown up and (hopefully) contributing members of society, they will be proud of THEMSELVES. Then I will feel like I have done my job.