Are you just a parent? Or are you a parent? Are you just a mother or just a father? Or are you a mother or a father? Why the questions with the funny emphasis? Why begin an article with a bunch of questions? Good question. I’m glad you asked!
The way we speak of parents today is quite different than it was 100 years ago. In times past, it was almost inevitable for individuals to grow up and become parents. You may grow up to do many different things, but becoming a parent was what everyone did. It actually was the way of humanity for thousands of years.
It’s quite different today though. Rarely, if ever, do we hear any young person talk about growing up and becoming a parent. They talk far more about what career or hobby they are interested in. Ask a young person what they want to be when they grow up and you won’t hear the response, “a parent”. Ask them if they want to be a parent, and the responses vary from a non-committal “sure”, to “no way!”
A quick glance at marriage rates, family size, and average marrying age tell the same story. The marriage rate today is close to 30%. In 1920, it was over 92%. The average family size has more than halved over the last century and marriage ages for both men and women have increased by almost 10 years each.
What’s happening? Why has parenting fallen out of fashion? Do we even care? Do we need parents? Why am I asking more questions?
Allow me to make an argument in favor of parents. First, look at parenting from the perspective of a child. There is no one else in the world that can have as large of an impact – for good or bad – on children than a parent. A healthy parent/child relationship cannot be replicated in any other institution outside of the family. The only alternative our society has devised for raising children without parents are different forms of institutions. In no way have these institutions been able to even approach the levels of effectiveness, efficiency and quality of developing children that engaged parents can have. The interests of a child are best met by loving parents.
Second, look at it from the perspective of the parent. Many people want to only focus on how difficult it is to be a parent – and it is difficult. Being a good parent requires immense amounts of sacrifice. It requires you to give of yourself far more than you thought possible. But that is exactly why everyone should want to do it. You will develop more skills and abilities being a parent than anything else you can do – precisely because it is so difficult. You don’t become a great person taking the easy or merely fun path in life. You must exercise to develop strength. It doesn’t just happen. If you are serious about becoming the best version of yourself, choose parenting.
Look at the amazing impact a parent can have on the lives of others. In no other capacity will you affect lives as greatly as you will in the capacity of a parent. Parents are responsible for children in their most formative years. Each person is ultimately responsible for who and what they become, but a parent has a greater opportunity to enable a high trajectory of accomplishment for a child’s life than anyone else. There are opportunities to work and help many people today; in capacities such as teachers, counselors, coaches, managers, etc. Compared to a parent, the capacity to teach, help and inspire in any of these roles pales in comparison. Parents take on all of these roles and hundreds more for their child, and they take them on for life.
I believe most people today agree, in theory, that parents are essential to society. It is becoming more common to not put that theory into practice. The role of a parent isn’t taken as seriously in practical society today as it has been in the past. As mentioned above, more people than ever before are choosing to delay becoming a parent or just choosing not to parent at all. Many who choose to become parents want to do as little as possible in that role and are more interested in their own hobbies than in their children. Those who choose to become engaged parents are increasingly having their rights as parents attacked by the state. We say parents are important, but our actions are not supporting our words.
This seems to be highlighted best when people speak about who they are. People will describe their ambitions for the future by saying that they “want to be a doctor and not just a mother” or they “want to be a musician and not just a father”. Why don’t we reverse the priorities? Why can’t we say, “I want to be a mother, and not just a doctor” or “I don’t want to just be a musician. I want to be a father.” A mother and father are far more important roles than anything else we could do in life and should be given a level of respect in everyday conversation that acknowledges that importance.
One of the reasons for the diminished role of parents in practice is our intense focus on ourselves. Children today are taught to ‘find themselves’ or ‘find out what they like’. We don’t seek to educate children with skills needed to be a parent. We seek to educate them with the skills we believe they may need for some career they may or may not end up getting. This journey for oneself has developed a very unhealthy focus inward and not outward in our society today. We are blessed with more opportunities and advantages than anyone else has ever had in the history of the world, and yet selfishness runs rampant as our insatiable desire for convenience and material objects brings astonishing levels of dissatisfaction. This selfishness is prohibitive of good parenting. The best parents are selfless. Their focus is always on their children which gets them out of their own heads. Their successes and struggles with their own children help them to build empathy for others.
I believe that being a parent is the most important role you can fulfill in this life. This doesn’t mean that those who don’t have the opportunity to be a parent have failed. This means that regardless of the outcome, our goal should be to become parents if possible. Just setting that as a goal and striving for it will change you for the better. It will reduce selfishness and promote charity. It will reduce sadness and increase satisfaction. Let’s make parenting popular again. Let’s speak positively about it. Acknowledge the difficulties and then highlight the growth and improvement they bring. Being a parent is the best job we could have. Don’t be just a parent. Be a parent!
At Believe, we are working to change the world, for good. We are a community of people who are willing to work and help another. We would love to have you join us. The world may never be the same.