Last year, the holidays were crazy! I seemed to spend most of my time
standing in line or carrying bags. We spent a small fortune on assorted
complicated gizmos -- which got opened and then ignored as my daughter
and son spent most of the day playing with $2.99 worth of stickers. We
got stressed out in order to relax and suffered in order to have fun.
My husband and I stared at each other across the the flotsam and jetsam
of wrapping paper and various pieces of who-knows-what, and you could
see the look in each of our eyes: Say what?!
As we brave the holiday shopping crowds -- trying to decide whether to
give Barney or Big Bird, action figures or dolls -- one can wonder about
the true gifts of parenting.
We think that the true gifts of parenting go deeper than giving our
children toys and games -- or even a college education.
Over and over again, a hundred times each day, we make a more
fundamental kind of "gift" to our children. We give a hug, a smile, a
touch, a scolding, a sandwich, a paycheck earned, a story read, a bed
tucked in, a goodnight kiss.
We give the gift of letting something slide, of taking a no-nap, hungry
day into account. We give the gift of restraint, of not swatting or
yelling or overreacting.
We offer our lap when our back hurts, we offer our heart when it feels
empty. We let our children enter our thoughts when our minds seem
stuffed with grown-up concerns and plans.
We let our children have us when we feel all too "had" by others. We
give even when others haven't given enough to us: our coworkers, our
boss, our spouse, our own parents. We give even when a part of ourselves
may not want to; often the most meaningful giving to our children is
offered when our personal preference would be to do something else.
We find more water when the wellspring seems to have run dry.
Most fundamentally, we give our selves. We open the door wide; we
give our children access to the vulnerable places in our heart; we let
them enter our souls; we let them crawl oh so deeply under our skin.
Our children give us so much to be sure. The act of parenting has its
own rewards. And we need to take care of ourselves so that we can
continue to have something to give to our children.
But parents don't give to get. And in the moment of giving to a child
we often don't get back much at all. Fundamentally, parenting is not an
exchange: we are not playing let's-make-a-deal with our children.
Parenting is an ongoing process of sacrifice: the sacrifice of
attention, time, energy, money, personal agendas, and all the activities
we would prefer to do if we were not parenting.
Of course, we sacrifice not as martyrs but with our eyes open, freely,
with strength, with all the ordinary little heroic acts that make up the
daily life of a parent.
We sacrifice our individual selves into relationship with our children.
We release for a moment the sense of contraction as an isolated self
into the joining of love, a love that can feel ultimately Divine.
Sacrifice means "sacred act." During the next month or so of holidays
-- whose origins are deeply spiritual -- it can be a good time to dwell
on the sacred essence of parenting.
This column is offered freely to parent-related organizations. If you
know of another newsletter that might like to carry it besides the one
in which you are reading it now, please encourage that organization to
contact Rick Hanson at the email address below. Or just email Rick with
the contact info and he will approach the organization.
(Rick Hanson is a clinical psychologist, Jan Hanson is an
acupuncturist/nutritionist, and they are raising a daughter and son,
ages 12 and 14. With Ricki Pollycove, M.D., they are the authors of
Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate
Relationships, published by Penguin. You can see their website at
www.nurturemom.com or email them with questions or comments at
firstname.lastname@example.org; unfortunately, a personal reply may not always be