“Having children makes you no more a parent than having a piano makes you a pianist.”
― Michael Levine
Recently I had a dream that my kids’ biological mother came to find them. It isn’t such an odd dream to have, an anxiety dream no doubt about something I thought I’d dealt with long ago.
But it sparked a thought I think every adopted parent has, but if they are anything like me, dismiss too quickly: What makes a parent? Partly because she, in this dream and no doubt in real life, had only a shadow of parenthood. But also partly because the feelings it brought up in me are both unique and very hard to put words to. Fear-anger-pity-compassion-disappointment-sadness? I’m sure there’s a word in another language.
For me, parenting certainly isn’t procreation. Parenting can come from not just adopted parents and foster carers, but from aunts and uncles, friends of the family or god/guide parents. And then my mind, due to my interests in researching wisdom, went to how all the things most worth knowing are learnt:
- Do different things
- Pay attention
- Reflect on how it went
- Do more different things
In this case, parenting itself is a very ‘different thing’ and so it is a source of wisdom. It’s not just that ‘being a parent’ was different from ‘not being a parent’. It’s that parenting has to constantly adapt to other human beings who seem to be trying to test your parenting skills to the limit. No, not the another adults at the schools gates — your kids. They are constantly adapting for advantage — a very useful trait as adults, and forcing you to keep switching up your approach, often at a time in your life when you were sub-consciously starting to coast.
My children haven’t just taught me about being a parent, they have taught me about myself and about being human. They have invaded my life so thoroughly that I’ve had to question what is it that’s quintessentially me? If I give up everything am I?
I can’t write as much as a used to. Can’t see my friends as much. My life has been transformed by having kids. Mostly for the good, bust also with a lot less choice. Some part of me has died. That happens in all of us as we grow in lots of ways. But in parenting it is caused by other little people (although clearly the choice is ours) and the change is relatively dramatic, unlike the way you slowly strangled your lazy teenager as your income became based on your efforts.
In children, there is an essence of what it means to be human. A glimmer too well hidden in adults amongst our fuckedupness, ego-driven delusions and need to present as something we are not. The roots of humanity you see in adults in the most intimate moments children present regularly and hide them frequently as they grow.
The scariest thing is I look for those roots in me and I can’t find them, or I have forgotten what they look like.
Parenting is a doing word and unlike any other. Celebrate it as a learning that’s hard won and never lost.
Previously published on Medium.com.
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Photo credit: flickr.com