An Incredible Essay on Parenting

Sometimes you read something that seems like it was plucked straight from your brain. Or in this case, your heart.

I am more than late to the party on the unearthing (and savoring) of this essay, but if you’re a mom or dad, please take a few minutes to read one of the truest essays about parenthood ever written.

In my own, ineloquent way, I have been saying and feeling the exact same things that Anna Quindlen says here about parenthood–that it’s not a jigsaw puzzle, where the pieces are to fit tidily in a discrete space. It’s not a riddle to be solved. It’s not even the same experience day to day, year to year, even moment to moment. It’s more of an ongoing discussion with the universe, one where we bargain and beg for answers that, we come to find in the end, never really existed.

The whole thing is worth devouring, but here are some of my favorite passages:

What those books taught me, finally, and what the women on the playground taught me, and the well-meaning relations and the older parents at cocktail parties—what they taught me was that they couldn’t really teach me very much at all. Raising children is presented at first as a true-false test, then becomes multiple choice, until finally, far along, you realize that it is an endless essay. No one knows anything. Anna Quindlen

There was babbling I forgot to do, stimulation they never got, foods I meant to introduce and never got around to introducing. If a black-and-white mobile really increases depth perception and early exposure to classical music increases the likelihood of perfect pitch, I blew it. The books said to be relaxed and I was often tense, matter-of-fact, and I was sometimes over-the-top. And look how it all turned out. I wound up with the three people I like best in the world, who have done more than anyone to excavate my essential humanity. That’s what the books never told me. I was bound and determined to learn from the experts. It just took me a while to figure out who the experts were. —Anna Quindlen

What this essay underscores—and what I wish I could scream from the rooftops if given a big-enough megaphone—is that there are no answers in parenthood. There is only you, and your child. And as many times as you dance with him daily, the footwork will always change.

[Parenthood is] not a jigsaw puzzle, where the pieces are to fit tidily in a discrete space. It’s not a riddle to be solved. It’s not even the same experience day to day, year to year, even moment to moment. It’s more of an ongoing discussion with the universe…

Because, no matter how much we want someone else to give us the answers or to help us trudge through those ugly and sloppy and delicious first days (months, years) of parenthood, the hard truth is no one has the answers. Usually, even you don’t even have them.

But the beauty, and the growth, is in the struggle. In the late nights. In the exhaustion. In the marveling at the slow unraveling of each and every one of their traits and their tics—those burgeoning quirks that you watch happen over time as you come to the beautiful realization that you were never in charge of who they are that much at all.

God, after all, is the great composer–we, the conductors. And we get to hold those little opuses in our arms and call them our children. Already written, start to finish, and we, just there to guide them through their measures and bars.

God, after all, is the great composer–we, the conductors. And we get to hold those little opuses in our arms and call them our children. Already written, start to finish, and we, just there to guide them through their measures and bars.

It’s my hope that you find the beauty in her words as much as I did. And that maybe you share them with another parent—a parent who’s maybe feeling defeated or run down, who needs reminding that there are very few objective Wrongs and Rights in this game.

We are their stewards. They are… well… they are who they are. And when we find a way to raise them while honoring that, that’s when we see the real beauty in parenthood.

Kahlil Gibran also nails it with this passage called “On Children,” another one of my favorites that nails the essence of this crazy, wonderful, confounding experience of motherhood:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Featured artwork via.


Sonni Abatta is a wife, a mom of three and a writer who runs this Orlando lifestyle and mom blog, and – despite the frequency with which she seems to do it – someone who does not actually enjoy writing about herself in the third person.

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