I’ve had a couple of conversations lately with some friends in which the idea of taking children for granted came up. These friends are wonderful, amazing, talented, lovely people who have not yet had the opportunity to have children. And as someone who was married at barely 21 and a mother at 23, I wondered if the easiness of my path to motherhood has led me to take my kids for granted.
But then I thought about what it means to “take someone for granted.” To me, it means forgetting that they are their own person and that they may not always be there to fill whatever role they have in your life. They could just pack up and leave.
In my imagination, taking a child for granted might entail getting upset at him, not taking time to play with him whenever he asks, forgetting that he has his own likes and dislikes, feelings and emotions that should be taken into account when making various decisions.
And this has been my experience. True, it is only 4 1/2 years of experience, but still:
— Children do not leave. They just don’t. As much as you wish they would sometimes, they are always there. Asking for their breakfast at 7:00 in the morning. Ignorant of the fact that you stayed up until 2:30 putting the finishing touches on their Halloween costumes.
— Children do not let you forget them. They will cry and scream. They will pull on your legs and your hands and your hair. They will say, over and over and over again in their most pathetic, tiny melting little voice, “Moooooommmmm. I neeeeeeed yoooouuuuuuu.” (True story.) They will remind you of their presence.
— Children will drive you crazy. Sometimes it is a good chase-around-the-apartment-laughing-so-you-can-blow-zerberts-on-their-bellies crazy. And sometimes it is a purer I-need-to-lock-myself-in-the-bedroom-for-a-few-minutes-before-I-do-something-I-regret crazy. It is hard to take for granted someone that toys with your sanity like that.
— Children will surprise you. They will burst into a (very abbreviated, barely recognizable, but still insanely cute) version of “Tomorrow” from Annie when you didn’t know they had ever heard the song. They will swim across the pool almost effortlessly when just days before they were sure attempting such a thing would kill them. They will oink when you thought they were going to roar. They will laugh when you thought they were going to cry (and vice versa). They will make observations that you, with at least a couple of decades more experience, had never noticed or thought to verbalize. And it will freshen up even the stalest of days.
— Children will still need limits and discipline. No matter how much you love your child, how respectful you are of their personhood, how little you want to offend them or to drive them from you, they are still children. And they don’t always know what is appropriate or what is acceptable. They need help figuring these things out. And sometimes it means doing something you’d rather not do. Perhaps something you thought you could avoid doing.
Adult children, are, of course, a different matter. They can leave and they should. But I hope that mine also want to come back to visit. I hope they continue to want to share the important things in their lives. I hope they still ask for my help. I hope they know that if they need someone to come over and bake chocolate chip cookies and watch a chick flick with them, I’m there.
In short, I hope that the relationship I build with them now will be strong enough that, decades from now, neither of us takes each other for granted.