Parent Is A Verb

Children are born. Women become mothers. Men become fathers. Other family members acquire new titles. Sisters, brothers, grandparents, uncles and aunts are “born” with an infant’s first cry.

Looking back – and it was a good while ago – to my eldest son’s birth, a normal delivery and a healthy child, praise be, I recall that my overwhelming sense was wonder. Delight and exhaustion mixed in, of course, and thankfully pain was a rapidly fading memory, as my husband and I held our first child. We were, all of a sudden, parents!

What I did not know, or realized only dimly then, was something that has become clearer and clearer to me over the years: parent is a verb.

Parenting is a mix: delight and deep happiness to be sure, exhaustion and boredom at times, along with disappointment, fear and heartache. Even though I may be on an emotional rollercoaster some days, and other family members surely have their own ups and downs, as a parent I have to keep on doing what needs to be done, with and for my children.

What we do as parents, how we behave toward our children as they grow and change, is seldom the same twice. What works with one child on one day may not work with his sister or brother, or with that same child on a different day. A five-year-old, ten-year-old, 15- or 25-year old (and they are still our children even as young adults) need different styles of parenting.

Parenting demands flexibility, patience and wisdom that few of us have when we hold our new babies, check their fingers and toes, look into their eyes for hints to the spirit, talent and character of the people they will become. Our children raise us, in a sense, in that they can help us become the parents they need. We must help each other too.

Especially in today’s world, with communications technologies that can link us instantly — by written word, image and sound — with parents around the world, we have the opportunity and obligation to learn to support each other in becoming better parents.

It is one thing to bring a child into the world and something else entirely to raise that girl or boy to adulthood. Parents need and deserve the support of communities. We are, of course, not alone: many people influence our children over the course of their lives. Teachers, coaches, the folks who run the corner store where our kids buy candy after school, their schoolmates, their friends’ parents and our friends’ children …all play a role, for good and sometimes for ill.

Our children see our values in how we speak with them and listen to them and, just as important, they see our values in how we meet or fail to meet challenges in our own lives. If we clearly value affection, education and respect, our children will be inspired to do the same. To the extent that meanness, ignorance or intolerance come into our lives and homes, our children will suffer and will pass that suffering to others.

Children go to school to learn the three R’s, reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. Adults responsible for raising children need to learn and practice the three L’s of effective parenting: loving, learning and listening. Each of us can become a better parent with encouragement and support from others.

There were difficult times when I felt like quitting on myself and my kids, but with help, we made it through. Thank you for reading this brief reflection on parenting. I hope it will inspire you in the weeks and months to come to encourage and support parents in your community. If you are a parent, I hope it will inspire you to seek the support you need from family, friends and the larger community.

By Eve Sullivan, Founder, Parents Forum.
Written for and published in the Nigerian Network of NGOs Magazine in honor of International Day of Families, May 15, 2007