Having a child is the most selfish thing you can do. Raising a child is the most selfless.
I thought a lot about becoming a parent. I had plenty of time to. I lost twins when I was 28, another baby at 29, and finally had my precious beautiful little girl when I was 31. I had medical intervention in 2011 in order to carry her. I spent a year thinking about whether I should or not. Thinking about why I wanted to be a mother so badly.
My daughter likes to tell that story. She’s the hero in it. The strongest baby who survived. Resilient even before she was born.
When I was a child I was given pain to deal with but not the strategies to cope with pain. As a result, I still struggle to deal with difficult emotions. I have learnt as an adult that being sad is ok and it will pass. That it doesn’t mean the world is ending. My daughter already knows that. And she is five.
I firmly believe the most important part of my role as a parent is to build her resilience through love. And I help build hers as I build my own. I teach her how to deal with emotions like sadness and anger. I don’t pretend they aren’t there or try to make them disappear. As much as I would like to.
And building her resilience means preparing her for a life that might not have me in it. And that may seem strange to most, if not all, parents. My daughter has a mountain of people who love her: her Dad, my Dad, my sisters, her Godmother, her Godfather, her Dad’s new partner … the list goes on and on. All of those people play a crucial role in her life. All of those people love her. All of those people are ones she can turn to if and when for any reason she cannot turn to me. Or she chooses not to.
Our selfish instinct is to protect what is ours. I am a very territorial person. But my daughter is not a possession. She is not an extension of me. She is her own person and I have no right to claim all her love for my own. I have no right to claim I am all she needs. I never have been and never will be. There is a world out there that will be made better for having her in it.
I am writing this because I see parents claiming they are all their children need. They want to be their child’s world. Children get used as pawns in marriage break-ups; they get used to fulfill their parents’ unrealised dreams; they get told they will never need anyone but Mummy or Daddy. I cannot help but see this as selfish. A child is not brought into this world to fill a hole in us.
Maybe I think about this more than most because I made a deal with my fourth unborn child that if she arrived safely into this world I would always put her first. Always. I recite the long list of people who love her before she goes to bed. Where I can I give her the choice of when to see her Dad and always respect her answer. She never has to worry about upsetting me because when she chooses her Dad I am pleased. The less she needs me, the more resilient I have helped her to become.
And you know what? Nothing beats the feeling of being missed. Nothing beats the feeling of having her arms flung around me and hearing all about her adventures. Nothing beats the messages I get because she wants to send them. I celebrate those moments. Those are the truest moments of joy. I am treasured as one of those wonderful people in her life who love her. Not the most important. Not the best. Not the one she needs above all others. Yet I am filled with pride to take my place among those wonderful people in her life who love her.
I will never be all she needs but I know she will always have a need for me …