A friend of mine recently asked me a great question that stayed with me for a long time afterwards. She and I were chit-chatting away while watching over my little one. As all parents know, I had to keep an eye and an ear on her, and our conversation was sprinkled with side-conversations with my pint-sized companion.
It was a terrific playdate; my baby had a deliriously happy time and I was able to concentrate as much as I possibly could on my friend. But at the same time, for someone without children, it must have been disconcerting not to have my full attention, because she suddenly popped a question that, I think, also surprised her: “Why would anyone have children?”
A Difficult But Wonderful Question
This question triggered a whole conversation on the reasons why we choose to become parents or not. At the end of the day, there are a lot of reasons behind this choice, and whatever decision is made is the right one for the person making it, but only if it is based on reality, rather than on the perception of reality.
We inevitably discussed how one of our common friends, who is much older than us, regretted not having taken the plunge into parenthood because she had, for the longest time, only heard about how bad and difficult it is, and how the parents around her always told her that it wasn’t worth it. It broke my heart, not that my friend didn’t have children, but that her decision was based on the perception that parenting was not worth it. She had been surrounded by people who were miserable in their role as parents and so immature that they had pressured her into not having children in an attempt to cling, through her, to their own childfree days.
How to Answer?
Now, as a mother myself, I can’t help but wonder: what should I be telling my friends about the experience? I want to be honest about both the good and the bad, but am I being fair to the reality of what I am going through? For that matter, can I ever be fair to the reality of what I am going through?
As I was mulling this over, it hit me like a ton of bricks: no, I can’t even be fair to the reality of what I am going through for the simple reason that most of the hardships that come with parenting are related to the reflection of my limitations and capacities, both those that I know I have and those that I don’t know I have. If I were more patient, stronger, healthier, etc., then I wouldn’t be having these particular challenges. These challenges are unique to me, because of who I am—and no one else will ever have this particular parenting experience.
Reflecting Instead of Telling
So, I cannot fully understand my experience—at least, not yet—because I don’t fully understand my new, parenting self. I have never been this tired; I have never been this busy; I have never worked this hard; I have never felt the weight of such responsibility before. So how can I fully understand my new, parenting self just yet?
I think, then, that, for now, I will start emphasizing to those considering parenthood that they should not be scared of the hardship they see parents having with their kids. They have to remember that while some of it is inherent to the experience (ah, lack of sleep, I see you!), a lot of it is a reflection of who the person is. And they have to remember that, ultimately, if done in the right spirit, parenting does help you become a better person, which, as a Bahá’í, is akin to fulfilling your life’s purpose. Then, I will use my experience to help them reflect on their question, without ever telling them if they should or should not have kids. That is their business, and theirs alone. Mine, as their friend, is to support them as needed.
Giving advice is a very sensitive process. Those sharing advice have to constantly be on their guard to make sure that they are not imposing their views and/or experiences on others. Instead, they should be enriching others’ decision-making process by sharing their own experiences.
Have you ever received really good or really bad advice? Have you ever been pushed or pushed someone else to do something you thought was right for them? How do you give advice to others?