I was raised by parents who were never very comfortable with parenthood. Their joy in raising my siblings and I came in spots and spikes – and that too only when we said something funny or brought home a good report card. For the most part, it was all about fuming and grumbling. They let us know, in a variety of ways, that we were a burden their friends’ children never were.
I grew up never expecting tender, loving care if ever I fell sick, because even a cough brought on my mother’s temper and a dirge about how my illness kept her from a good night’s sleep. So, I learnt to stuff my face into a pillow and cough my lungs out into it, hoping to God that’d be the last cough ever. Even from a young age, I took my meds unsupervised; my dad sat in the living room and yelled the dosage from behind his newspaper. My mother, reluctantly cast in the role of cooking porridge for the sick child, was too busy fuming that I had the nerve to fall ill, to ensure I didn’t overdose. Or under-medicate.
I can never recall my mother giving us our meds. Or helping to tie our laces. Or ironing our clothes. She was always in some storm over the burdens placed on her. But she cooked us good meals, and then, as we wolfed down our food hungrily, taught us to praise her cooking – to her and to our relatives and friends. For about thirteen years, she kept a clean and neat home – never as easy feat even with one child, what more with more, – but again, it more all about preening and keeping up appearances – Look at how well I keep the home, – than it was about any benefit for us.
Caring for the family was never about love.
When the Cat’s Away the Mice Will Play by Théophile-Emmanuel Duverger
Today, I, and so many others the world over, have the same responsibilities to mother our children. My siblings and I, being products of a different era, for the most part, kept still in church and other public places; my children have never understood the meaning of being still and silent. The moment they sit in the pew, the squirming and furtive fights begin. Out-of-the-side-of-the-mouth parenting is an art form I have perfected whenever we go out. Also, because of my children, I am the unabashed maestro at arranging my features into smiling gentleness whilst leaning towards the most recalcitrant of the lot, and saying through clenched teeth, Do you want to know what will happen if this behavior continues? When we get home, there’ll be a lecture on bad behavior and maybe some reduced tv time from already sparse viewing opportunities. And the erring one will climb into our lap to howl and sob a torrent at the injustice of it all, while we hold them close, struggling to choke down our laughter.
And remain unmoved by the tears, holding firm to the punishment.
But never a lament that stretches into the week, about the undeserving shame brought onto parents.
Not because we’re model parents. Not because we’ve never felt mortification at the sight of one of our children attempting to do the overturned beetle routine over a denied request. Not because we’re saints with a turn-on-the-tap flow of patience.
But because that’s what children do. At least most of them. The whines, the howls, the squabbles, the misbehaving. Sniffles, measles, teething – all from one person, all in one week. Getting thrown off the bike. Falling off a tree. Getting stuck in a tree, so, so high up and screaming for the 8-month pregnant mother to come right now and get her down.
That’s all part of the repertoire of being a child.
Often, there are shadows and deep pain from having children, and caring for children. Miscarriages. Long hospital stays and endless tests for an unknown illness. Hope and desperation as you see the life that came from you slowly reach for an unseen hand not yours. The knifing pains and tears that never dry, years and years after burying your child.
Yet, those shadows too have their place in the Heaven and Calvary of raising children.
Pain is not supposed to visit only other people’s children, and to skip ours. Sorrow is bound inextricably to joy, and never is that more true than in raising and parenting children. For every joy, there will be a sorrow. For every sorrow, there will be a joy.To love a child is to be there for them, through life-changing decisions, as well as through the everyday heroism of little things done without charge. To love them with every fibre of our being, through the redgolds of sun-joys and through the purple pain-wreathed years of deepest grief
To love a child is to touch heaven. A worn out Irish mother to twelve once expressed her worry to her priest that she wasn’t praying much due to the amount of time taken up for the home.
The old priest replied, Your children is your prayer.