Friday, February 08, 2013

Parental pain transitory, but the joy is everlasting

My most essential network is my mom network.
For just about any parenting question or challenge, I’ve got a friend who’s an expert. Craft projects and dance lessons. Discipline issues and academic motivation.
I value their advice and wisdom. More than that, I value the shared experience.
The past few months, I’ve especially relied on other moms of sixth-graders. We share ideas on helping our kids stay organized and the best way to communicate with specific teachers. When we’ve reached levels of desperation and frustration at home, we can call around and ask, “Is your child having trouble with this assignment?”
Best of all, we discover we’re not alone.
There’s great comfort in learning that the struggles at our home aren’t all that different from homes all over the neighborhood.
I also rely on friends who’ve already survived the first year of middle school. We’ve talked about the value of tutorials — and how to convince kids that they’re helpful, not a form of punishment. I’ve quizzed them on the balance of freedom and restrictions. On when it’s OK to give in and when you have to stand your ground.
Sometimes, the most helpful words of all are, “Sixth grade is just awful,” followed by, “It gets better.”
One friend compares the pains of parenting with the pains of childbirth. It hurts in the moment, but then it’s over. You move on. You forget the pain. Then you get to relish in the joys.
And there’s so much joy.
Yes, Cooper was a week late entering the world. Labor was long. Birth required forceps. I required two anesthesiologists to numb the pain. Yet, my body doesn’t remember the pain.
I do remember receiving my firstborn son in my arms. I remember the soft blanket that swaddled him. The swirl of dark hair on his giant head. The very first time I touched his button nose.
In those first moments, all the inconveniences and pains of pregnancy and labor were forgiven.
That’s how it always goes — or the human race would cease to exist. We keep having babies, even though we know it’s going to hurt. We keep raising children, even though there’s all kinds of heartbreak. Not because we have to, but because we want to.
Yes, Cooper sometimes forgets to bring homework home from school. He sometimes worries too much about what his peers might think of him. (Though I suspect most sixth-graders are too worried about themselves to be all that concerned with the people around them.) He makes a few choices that leave me wondering who exactly raised this child.
Yet he’s even more amazing now than when I first held him in the summer of 2001.
He fiercely protects his little sister. On top of schoolwork, he juggles music, church and Scout responsibilities not because he has to but because he wants to. He knows more about Greek and Roman mythology than I’ll ever learn. He engages children and adults alike in pleasant, meaningful conversation. He actually enjoys camping, no matter the weather. He dances to that goofy song “Gangnam Style” with unabashed enthusiasm.
In my trusty mom network, we often lament, “No one warned us how difficult parenting would be.” And that’s true. No one once ever did. (Or if they did, we weren’t listening.)
That same group of moms also recognizes that we can let go of frustration and sorrow and hold fast to love and hope. We know that the pain is dwarfed by the joy.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

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