Sunday, November 13, 2011

Life's Hardest Job

People often brag about my son the doctor, or my daughter the executive, but you never hear anybody say: I'm so proud of my child, the parent. There are many worthwhile jobs in life, and we should certainly respect the folks who do these jobs, but it seems to me there is one job that never gets the recognition it deserves: parent. Maybe it's because parenting is not thought of as a job, but in fact it is a 24/7 job with unbelievable responsibilities. And unlike doctors, teachers, executives or plumbers, we receive no training to become parents...we learn by making mistakes.

Making a child is the fun part, but raising a child is really where the rubber meets the road. When you take that beautiful bundle home from the hospital, especially the first bundle, panic immediately sets in. Those of us who were lucky had our own parents as role models at least had some idea what needed to be done, but the reality always overwhelmed the expectations. Why is the baby crying? Why is the baby quiet? Why isn't the baby eating? Is everything on this child working the way it's supposed to? New parents are beset by a million questions, a million doubts. Each new stage of a child's life presents new challenges, and somehow, despite the lack of training,  parents are expected to know what to do.

Being a parent isn't about big moments, it's more about thousands of little ones. The picture-perfect parents we saw on television as kids simply do not exist. Just once it would have been nice if Ozzie said to Harriet: I don't know what the problem with Ricky is, all I know is that he's driving me crazy! Moms and Dads don't always have the answers. They try to be there for their kids and just do the best they can. They don't always do the right thing but they try, and maybe that's all anyone can ask. I can't imagine what it must be like for kids who lose a parent for whatever reason while they are young. The pressure on the remaining parent then becomes enormous because there is nobody else to turn to. It's a sad thing for a child who grows up without one or both parents. It's sadder still when a parent loses a child.

My impression of many modern parents is that they don't ever want to say no to their children. They don't want to be the bad guy and so their kids have no sense of where the fences are. The kids keep testing Mom and Dad for limits, and when they realize there are none, they could turn out to have some real problems. It's easy to say yes, but saying no and explaining your reasons for doing so helps children learn that it's not just about what they want, but what society expects of them as well. Parenting is damned hard work and there is no time clock to punch at the end of the day. Your children are always your children, no matter how old they are.

Maybe they should give classes in parenting. It seems to me they would be a lot more valuable than some of the junk kids learn in school these days. Tell them that sometimes parenting can be a joy: baby's first steps or words; learning and growing in school; First Communion; graduation day; and the small pleasures that come with the job like having your child fall asleep in your arms after you've read them a story. They should also be told that parenting can hold terrors: serious illness; disciplinary problems; hanging with bad friends; experimenting with drugs; bad marriages; financial problems...all the things that make you pull your hair out and keep you up nights.

I've made my share of mistakes as a parent, but somehow, with the strong support of my wife, who is an amazing mother, we've raised three children of whom I am extremely proud. If I manage to get to heaven, it won't be for the exemplary life I've led. If I have any shot at all, it might be because I tried my best to be a good father to my children. If I have succeeded by any measure at that job, I'd be satisfied with that.


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4 comments:

The Whiner said...

You are the best father anyone could ever ask for. Just so you don't have to wonder. (.s. As soon as this lovely omment sets in I'll be sending along my Christmas list..)

Jim Pantaleno said...

Your sense of timing is perfect as always.

Joseph Del Broccolo said...

I sometimes think that teachers should lend a hand in helping parents. They should impress upon the child that love comes from the home, that the parent is their only barrier between happiness and disaster. That should be taught in schools as well as parents doing their part on the home front.

Jim Pantaleno said...

True Joe, but as you say, parents must help teachers too. These days everything is left to the schools and they can't do it all by themselves.