There are many many people who ‘wanted to have a baby’, but didn’t necessarily ‘want to be a parent.’ There is actually a huge difference between the two, and it is this difference that usually determines one’s experience of being a parent. For the former group, once the novelty of having a baby wears off and the work starts, being a parent is essentially a perpetual source of frustration. As a parent, you essentially have to put ALL of your own wishes and desires on hold. All of the things that you used to be able to do, such as travel the globe, go out dancing, intimacy, etc., all of these things come to screeching halt (or at least really slow down and become much harder). Financially, having a child these days is an enormous expense and you will feel financially strapped basically for the next 25 years at least. No sleep, no travel, no going out at night, etc. So many wishes frustrated. The parents then become generally resentful towards their kids because of all of their frustrated desires, and then it winds up where the general emotional state parents express towards their kids is one of frustration and annoyance. The kid of course doesn’t understand at all what is going on, and doesn’t understand why their parents are so upset at them all the time when they are just trying to play. So they conclude their parents are mean or don’t love them, so they start acting up and misbehaving. This then reinforces the parent’s frustration and they enter into a vicious cycle. Then the teenage years come…
When you think about it, we have very few opportunities as human beings to actually care for another person, I mean really care for them and assume personal responsibility for their welfare. Normally, this is not even the slightest bit a problem for us because we normally think having to look after others is such a bother!
The way to break this cycle is for the parent to realize how incredibly lucky they are to have the opportunity to be a parent, and to really be able to care for another living being. As we progress in our spiritual training towards becoming a Buddha, we will realize that caring for others is what gives our life meaning. We will want more and more to have opportunities to care for others and we will realize how rare it is that somebody will even let us really help and care for them. When you think about it, it is only with our kids and with our elderly parents that we have such opportunities. These times of our life are incredibly precious from a spiritual point of view. During such times, there is no space for selfishness, and we are pushed to our absolute limits in terms of giving our time and love to others. Is it hard? Yes, very hard. But that is why we are growing in capacity. Will their be times when our selfishness and frustrated desires will raise their ugly heads? Yes, of course there will be. But these are times where we can train in recalling how lucky we are to have such opportunities to care.
In Buddha’s teachings, it talks about having a precious human life. The word precious here is not an automatic give away. Our human life becomes ‘precious’ only if we use it to train in spiritual paths (Buddhist or otherwise). If we only use our human life for the sake of this life and engage in actions not much different than those of an animal, then our life is an ordinary human life. In the same way, our parenting only becomes precious if we use it as an opportunity to train in spritual paths. If we have such an attitude, every moment is like a spiritual bonanza. Otherwise, it is just an ordinary parental life, full of frustration mixed in with the occasional joy.
Our opportunity to be a parent really doesn’t last long. When our kids reach 8, they become largely self-sufficient. After 12, they don’t want to have anything to do with us since they are in their early teen years. Later, we just become an ATM. When we cease to be the ATM, we become the object of blame for how hard their lives are. Later they discover modern psychology, whose sole conclusion is our parents are to blame for all of our screwed-up-ness! Then we are really the object of blame! Then our kids have kids and don’t want us controlling what they are doing or looking over their shoulders, and their primary objective is to not make all of the mistakes that we made! Then we become old and a burden on our family, and our kids then ‘have’ to take care of us. We are grateful for their help, but are a bit miffed that they are so ungrateful as to be resentful about the fact that they are having to take care of us now when we did so much to take care of them when they were kids. But then we recall (or perhaps we choose to forget) that we too were resentful about our wishes being frustrated when they were kids – it all has come full circle.
Don’t let this happen to you. Instead, create a new cycle by embracing the opportunity to work 24/7 for the sake of others. Be grateful for the opportunity to smash your selfishness and break the chains of your worldly desires. Welcome the countless annoyances as opportunities to purify. Understand that it is in dependence upon the love and virtue you create with your family that you will eventually become a fully enlightened being. Our opportunity to be a parent can be spiritually very precious and it won’t last long, so we need to remind ourselves again and again to not waste a single moment of it!
Your turn: Describe some selfless task in your life that you normally try to avoid. How are you going to act differently towards that task now?