How Parenting Helps Us Better Understand Ourselves
My son was born over a year and a half ago. When my wife and I look at pictures of him from his first few months, we can’t believe how much he has grown. His face has already lost much of that chubby roundness, and he looks and moves like a toddler. We’ve witnessed his first words, his first haircut, and his realization that running, dancing, hopping, and jumping are all more fun than walking.
I’ve also started to realize how much I’ve changed, too.
Before we welcomed our little guy into the world, plenty of people told us that becoming a parent changes everything. What I didn’t realize is how quickly, and to what extent, parenting would push me to examine who I really am, what I want, and where I’m going. I would argue these are all spiritual questions, and honestly, I feel like my attempts at answering them have helped me evolve in ways I never would have anticipated.
Becoming a parent has helped build a bridge between who I am and who I want to be. I’m closer to understanding—and simply being—myself.
Part of why this has happened is because I’ve realized that in order to be a good model to my son, I need to live in a way that feels authentic to who I am. Living authentically requires lots of soul searching and trying to get to the bottom of what life is all about. But my son taught me pretty quickly that life is all about love. It’s about spending as much time as possible with the people you love, loving what you do every day (or making time every day for doing what you love), and looking to love as the answer to life’s most puzzling questions.
Whenever we bring a new child into the world, we realize how wonderful we must have been when we came into the world. If we grew up with the problematic concept of original sin (the idea that we’re inherently sinful creatures), then that idea goes out the window. We also realize the immeasurable, indescribable love and adoration that must have surrounded us during our first hours and days, because now we’re the ones experiencing this love and adoration.
The implications of all of this are enormous. If new life is an inexplicable expression of love—if, as we suspect, at our core we are good—then we know all we need to know for becoming our original selves.
It’s a constant process of becoming, of course. We don’t just wake up one day and say, “Oh, wow. It’s done! I’m finally exactly who I’ve always wanted to be.” People disappoint us. We disappoint ourselves. Life happens.
But if we’re listening, if we create quiet space for ourselves, practice being present with ourselves and our kids each day, and radically embrace mystery, then we’re able to tune into the gentle whispers of the universe. We come to understand that the world is constantly pointing us to a brightly shining light inside us and encouraging us to share this light with others, especially our kids.
Parenting is holy servitude. As part of my Advent practice this year, I’m studying the Gospel of Mark, which is the shortest gospel and has a strong emphasis on the importance of servitude in finding salvation. Time after time, Jesus tries to communicate to his closest followers—the Apostles—the great paradox that we can only find the freedom through freely giving ourselves to others. He’s usually unsuccessful at this; the Apostles really don’t get it.
As parents, though, this is what we do every day for our children. We give them our time, our affection, our love, and our adoration. We change their diapers, we teach them to drive, we grieve with them and for them, and we do our best to make them feel that they are loved and therefore at home in the world.
And when we do all of this work out of genuine love, doesn’t it ultimately make us feel like we’re doing exactly what we’re supposed to be doing? In some mysterious way, serving our children makes us feel more like ourselves. It’s as if the Divine is telling us that this is who we are. We find ourselves by losing ourselves in service to our children, and for many of us this realization leads us to empathize in new and profound ways.
We realize that every person is someone else’s child, and therefore we are all made for each other. With this in mind, we can use whatever natural gifts we have, along with our interests and/or passions, to go out and serve others. Surely this is what Jesus has in mind when he says “those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (Mark 8:35).
Through parenting, we find salvation.
We find God.
We find ourselves.