My Child Owes Me Nothing

Lessons in Parenthood: Week 13

My husband, Luka, gets credit for this week’s topic of conversation. We are nearly adjusted to having a new baby and we’ve started to have some normal conversations again. One night last week, while having dinner, Olivia left the table, and quietly laid down next to Leia and gently cuddled her baby sister. She softly said, “I’m here, baby Leia.” Luka and I stopped our conversation to watch the little interaction. It’s the sort of moment that makes the crying, sleepless nights totally forgettable. We just watched and smiled. Then Luka said,

“You know, it’s important to remember that they’re not ours. They will leave one day.”

We spent the rest of dinner talking about this idea. Our kids are not ours. They do not belong to us. They don’t belong to anybody. They are their own free person. One day, they will leave us, become who they decide to become and Luka and I will be by ourselves again. Maybe we will be a part of their lives (hopefully), but maybe not. And maybe our role in their lives will be very active, but maybe we will sit back and watch from a distance what they do with their lives. We have to keep in mind that while we are their parents and it’s up to us to raise them, once this phase of life is over, we must let go.

More importantly, they owe us nothing. I’ve said this before, but your kid did not ask to be here. Therefore, it’s the parent’s responsibility to give the child the best they can and the child does not have to reciprocate. As a parent, you’ve given your child a great gift: the gift of life. However, that gift comes with no strings attached. As soon as a parent starts to feel that their child owes them something for the work, money, or time invested in raising that child, they have lost the real reason behind parenting, which is selfless love. If I feel that my child owes me, anything from good behavior to keeping me in her life when she’s an adult, then I am no longer thinking of her. I am thinking only of myself.

My duty in parenting is to do my best in raising my children; to give them all that they need to become competent, good people in this world. Once they have gone out into the world and begin the journey of life on their own, my “job” is over. I hope I will still be a loving, active person in their life, but at that point my role as parent, is gone. We are not meant to parent forever, just as we are not meant to be parented forever. We are meant to go out, be our own person, make something of ourselves and our capabilities, and give back to the world. We cannot do that if we are still attached to our parents. As parents, we cannot do that if we are attached to our adult children.

The flip side of this is my relationship with Luka. I see why so many relationships fail after kids. You become so busy with the kids that you fail to maintain your relationship with each other. Then after the kids are grown you either try to continue parenting them even though they’re adults because it’s the only way to you know how to function or you have to start over in your relationship with your spouse who has become more of a business partner. Luka and I have often said that our marriage, our relationship is paramount. The kids will come and go and we will still be there afterwards. We can’t let our relationship take a back seat to kids. Sure, while the kids are babies our relationship will have less one-on-one time and we will have to ignore each other to take care of the baby, that’s life. The important thing is that we consistently put effort into our marriage in the same way we put effort into raising our kids. After all, we vowed to spend our lives with each other, not with our kids.

The lesson in all this? For me, it was to remember that I should love my children freely and entirely and expect nothing in return. In all moments, good and bad, I must remember that our children will not be with us forever. They will not be children forever. While that sounds sad, it’s this sadness that gives sweetness to life and parenthood. If we do this right, then one day, when they do leave us, Luka and I will sit back, hand-in-hand, look each other in the eyes and say, “We did something good here.”