The Point of Parenting by Ori Lenkinski
*originally published in Hebrew in the Parental Choreography blog on Haaretz.com
Yesterday, as I was driving through Tel Aviv, I spotted a father gently lifting his baby out of its stroller, high in the air to kiss it on the tummy. As I passed him, I thought, “that’s nice. Having a baby is nice.” My mind immediately took the next few steps. Having a baby is nice. My children are no longer babies. I don’t have anyone to lift out of a bassinet and snuggle. Does that mean that I need to have another child?
As a kind of afterthought, the following question popped into my mind: what is the point of having children?
Though I am a mother, I had never really considered this thought before.
I know the evolutionary, genealogical point of having kids. They succeed us, pass on our genes into a future we will not be present for. They are a creation. They ensure the survival of the human species. All that is true. But what is the point for us, without thinking of anyone else? What do we gain or hope to gain from it?
Having a baby is a shock to the system in every way possible. So much changes. When you’re in that first phase, people tell you it will get easier. I have friends who had multiple children in short periods, reporting that the suffering of being aflood in diapers and bottles was worth the joy they expected to cash in on later. Another friend referred to the baby period as “grueling”, that from the age of two, she started to enjoy each of her three children. I’ve heard people refer to those early-childhood years as “the lost years” for parents. When we’re in it, the fatigue, the mess, the uncertainty is so visceral. And when the baby days have passed, they seem, from the outside, so sweet, so cuddly, so adorable.
Our younger child is about to pass the finish line out of babyhood. She is mid-potty training, mid-parting from her pacifier and has made serious headway with releasing bottle-drinking. She basically sleeps through the night. (I cannot emphasize this enough. In my mind, the line in the sand between baby hell and blissful parenting is etched out by sleep. A tired me is a grumpy me.) We have entered the period in which she can sit with a book and “read” it to herself happily for twenty minutes. She is old enough to play with her sister without any adult intervention. I feel we are on the precipice of that sweet spot that I have been waiting for since I got into all this parenting business eight years ago.
But what defines that sweet spot?
There is the sense that we have children and then wait for some point, some phase or period in which we will be able to enjoy them. But what is that point? Or rather, when is it?
Is it defined by the ease with which we parent? Is it the point at which the kid’s personality because clear enough to get to know them and communicate with them?
And if we are at the sweet spot, why does a random father kissing his baby make me question my family planning? Is the point of parenting to have a baby to cuddle or a toddler to chase or a child to chat with or a teenager to corral? Are we always remembering or imagining the previous or following step as the easier, more enjoyable one?
If I ask myself what the point is for me, it is the love, or rather the collage of moments that equal love. It is the moment that you wake up after an imperfect night of sleep and find yourself in a pile on the couch with your kids, talking about dreams or breakfast or clouds or some other topic they’ve woken up with. It is those moments when you look at these little people who live in your home eating their dinner contentedly, giggling at one another across the table, and you can say to yourself that you have provided them, for the moment, with everything they need. It’s their little bodies in pajamas and their fluffy bedheads. Or their small towel hanging next to yours.
I imagine the love generated by these moments as some kind of noble gas that fills the air balloon of our lives, taking us soaring together in the little basket beneath, weathering whatever challenges should come our way.