My career as an educator has imbued me with a deep respect for parents. Not having children myself, I can only begin to imagine the vulnerability people feel when they bring children into the world.
As I mentioned in a post last year, life is hard for all of us. Even when we reach high levels of wealth, popularity, and even spiritual development, the challenges continue to find us. Most religious traditions have their foundations in an understanding that much of life’s suffering is unavoidable, and the worst kinds are entirely unnecessary, but circumstances make these realizations difficult and unlikely for most of us.
So when children come into the world, parents–or anyone who raises a child–will know the risks and the pain, the harshness and the trauma that lie ahead for that little boy or girl.
And since we are all fallible human beings, so much potential for mishap looms over all of our interactions. As children grow up, they need loving homes, safe and secure schools, and positive environments as the arena for all of their experiences.
Every era and every setting in human history has no doubt presented its own set of risks and uncertainties for parents trying to raise their children. But this in this, our era, the present challenges concern us most.
Parents understandably want the best for their children–better lives than they themselves had growing up. They try to give their kids every possible advantage, every opportunity, every hope for happiness and fulfilment. Moms and dads strive to eliminate danger and protect their young from harm. Ironically, these very impulses can become the origins of problems.
Just within the home, disagreements between parents over where the perils and opportunities lie can bring about anxiety and discord. Having multiple children in a household inevitably leads to conflict. The stresses of providing for a family and creating a comfortable, accepting home will invariably challenge harmony within a family. Children encounter these things before they even step out into the world.
Then they enter institutions such as schools, places of worship, scout troops, and organizations that foster personal pursuits. They mix with other young people, all from varying backgrounds and sets of influences. Uncertainty builds.
And then we have the powerful and pervasive presence of media, which are overwhelmingly digital in our day and increasingly difficult to monitor. Never in our history have our children had so much access to so much human expression. And never have so many distant, obscure, compelling influences had such access to children.
No more momentous endeavor exists than childrearing. And the most truly dedicated and successful and parents and guardians–without exception–have one critical characteristic in common: an indispensable faith in humanity to check their understandable apprehensions.
Dangers exist in the world, but multitudes of opportunities continually work to isolate and consolidate them. Children will inevitably encounter mishaps and even harm, but those experiences reinforce life’s most important lessons. Children develop best when those who care for them make every reasonable effort to contain the potential for harm. Once those efforts become unreasonable or excessive, new risks arise.
And young people thrive most meaningfully when those who raise them make every reasonable effort to ensure advantages for them. Once those efforts become unreasonable or excessive, disadvantages creep in.
Knowing the boundary between prudence and obsession represents the greatest challenge for parents today. Not knowing whether I would be equal to that challenge, I revere all who raise children.