This week I’ve been reflecting over my past 15 months as a parent. I think it’s because I’m currently writing an article for Today’s Parent, something I usually have to put quite a bit of time into, and in doing so I’ve had to think back to the early days quite a lot. One thing that becomes immediately apparent when you look back is how quickly that time goes, and also where it’s going to go.
You’re Only a Parent for So Long
Technically I’m now officially a parent for the rest of my life – or the rest of Isabelle’s life, really. But I don’t actually believe that. I think you’re only really a parent for a limited amount of time. By the time Isabelle hits 16 – maybe older – most of what I have to offer her will be done. I’ll still be there for her, not so much as a parent, but as something else. She’ll be ready to embark on her own life, make her own choices and become her own person. She’ll find new knowledge in her own way, discover and explore the world how she sees fit. I’ll still be here, ready and willing to help should she need me, but she will, inevitably, fly the nest. In that moment I hope I’ll be able to feel immensely proud.
I Feel Like My Parenting Journey Has Only Just Started
Whilst I’ve been a parent since the moment Isabelle got pulled out of my wife, it’s only recently that I’ve started to feel like one. By that, I simply mean that it’s now where the real parenting actually starts. The first year or so you basically do zero parenting. There are no rules to enforce, no punishments and you don’t really teach them a lot. You can’t massively cock it up that much for the first year. You basically just feed them stuff, watch they don’t fall off the windowsill, change the odd nappy and prey they fall asleep. If it wasn’t for the sleep deprivation and the shrieking, shrill cries, then it wouldn’t even be all that difficult. Says the man who quickly suffered with postnatal depression.
But from here on out we’re going to be real parents. We’re teaching Isabelle what no means, we’re being tested on what she can and can’t get away with, and I feel like she’s in a position where she can – and more importantly wants – to actually learn new things. It’s made me realise how quickly we’ve gotten to this point, and also just how fast life really does pass you by.
Life Inevitably Slips Through Our Fingers
Nothing stops the flow of life. No matter what you do, how much you embrace the moment or ignore it, life will pass you by. We are temporary life forms and there is beauty in temporary things. I think it’s so important to constantly remind yourself of that.
I also find it fascinating that this audacious, defiant little toddler that Isabelle is will eventually become a frail, old woman. It blows my mind to think of it. That every single adult that has ever lived was once in a similar position that Isabelle is currently in. They were once a 15 month old infant. It wasn’t that long ago that this was me. Now I’m on to the next stage of my life. I’ve gone from the child in the family tree to the parent, thus shifting everyone else up a notch. The parent becomes the grandparent, and the grandparent becomes the great-grandparent. Life just keeps on going.
Finding Meaning in the Struggle
Even the perfect life will involve struggle. If everything goes as well as humanly possible people you love will eventually die. I think the only way to take comfort in any sort of struggle is to find a meaning for it. I’ve talked a lot on this blog with my ongoing struggles with depression. The big thing that has changed from before I became a parent to now is the fact that I have Isabelle – obviously. She gives meaning to the struggle. She gives me a purpose, a direction and something to focus on when the bad moments come, and they will always come.
In the face of tough moments all we can do is look at what gives our life meaning and absorb ourselves in that. Responsibility as a parent has given my life a purpose that I never had before, and for that I’m thankful.
Moving Up the Family Tree
It’s an unfortunate part of life that if all goes well, we inevitably move up that family tree. But that’s just the inexorable nature of life. I’m currently in the exciting stage of that transition. Going from clueless child to wanderlust adult, and now on to the new parent is an exciting stage of life. It’s a stage I’m trying my best to be absorbed in, but one I know will eventually pass.
I’m well aware of how life will become the reverse of what it is now. Isabelle will grow old, and I will grow older. I’ll become the dependent, fragile person who she inevitably worries about falling over and shitting themselves. Life has a peculiar way of coming full circle. I know I’m a good many years before any of this becomes a reality, but it wasn’t that long ago I was the defiant 15 month old curious about the world surrounding me. In a blink of an eye I have that 15 month old right in front of me, and I’m the parent. With every passing moment another month floats on by, and just like that, life slowly slips through our fingers.
Eventually, as Mufasa tells Simba in the Lion King, “The sun will set on my time here.” I’m just hopeful that I last a little longer than he did after saying that.