July 25, 2024
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The Joy of Parenting: Going Back to Basics

Just over eight years ago, I found myself feeling a strange mix of emotions in a situation I had never experienced before. My wife was in labor and about to give birth to our first daughter and I was in the hospital room with her, trying to keep it together so I could “be strong” and supportive.

I was feeling happy, excited, proud, protective, nervous, worried, anxious; in other words, “all of the above.” I also felt a ton of sympathy pains as I thought about my wife getting stuck with an epidural needle the size of a horse! Boy, those 17.5 hours of labor and delivery were really hard for me.

Apparently, though, my now-8-year-old daughter isn’t all that impressed. Last Shabbat, as we were returning home from shul, we somehow got onto the topic of the day she was born (she loves to hear stories about her “early years”). With a firm, “No Abba,” she let me know in no uncertain terms that she thinks my wife’s labor and delivery were harder on my wife than on me.

Now, I’m no doctor (medical, that is), but I’m pretty sure my daughter couldn’t possibly be so certain about that since she wasn’t there when most of it happened. I mean, she only showed up at the end, so how could she know who had it more difficult?!

Being the mature adult that I am, I decided not to argue with my daughter, not wanting to hurt her fragile, budding ego. And, in that silent moment as I complimented myself on having greater insight into the suffering of mothers- and fathers-to-be than my 8-year-old child, I reflected on my wonderful wife and our years of parenting our children together.

One of the beautiful, amazing things about marriage is that it enables people to reach heights of growth they couldn’t reach on their own, not the least of which is becoming a parent. Even some cynical Hollywood types have talked about how transformative parenthood was for them, forcing them to discard their self-centered lifestyle and mindset in order to become the parent their child needs them to be.

People used to jokingly lament that parenthood doesn’t come with an instruction manual. With the massive proliferation of how-to books, self-help books, advice columns and magazines over the last couple of decades, there are now a gazillion “instruction manuals” from which to learn about how to be a good parent, a better parent, the best parent and so on and so forth.

Thankfully, there is a lot of good research and clinical experience behind many of these publications and they’ve produced really great insights into how to raise our children to the best of our ability. What I was reminded of the other day, however, is that sometimes, the best parenting can be captured in a simple, pure moment of joy and happiness.

Strip away all the recommendations on how to get our children to develop good eating habits, how to teach them successful conflict resolution skills, how to get them to study in high school, how to, how to and how to, and what you’re left with is a back-to-basics moment that is wonderful and uncomplicated.

My wife recently had an idea to buy a trampoline for our backyard. Well, I wasn’t so sure it was a practical purchase, but I can admit now that my wife was wiser than me (there’s that great insight and maturity thing I talked about earlier that I’m so good at). We bought the trampoline and I put it together for the girls one day before they returned from school. That afternoon, they gleefully played on it for a long while.

A few days later, I supervised our girls jumping around on the trampoline for an hour or so and enjoyed just sitting there and watching them have a great time. They weren’t playing on their tablets or watching TV. They weren’t using the computer. They were going back to basics and enjoying spending time outside, giggling and laughing, and showing off as they jumped and jumped and jumped.

A couple of weeks ago, our girls and I went hiking while the wife relaxed at home as she recovered from hand surgery. It was great to see their excitement as they made branches into makeshift walking sticks, saw butterflies flutter by and balanced themselves while walking along fallen tree trunks. We came across a wild turkey, though only caught glimpses of it before it high-tailed it out of there, perhaps worried it was going to become the main attraction in a turducken dish at La Casa de Gur-Aryeh later that evening.

We hiked and hiked and hiked as the girls kept wanting to go further along the trail. The parenting was easy, effortless; not because I’m such a great parent, but because the girls were so busy enjoying nature that they lost themselves in it and ignored all the interpersonal and intrapersonal stuff that so often can get in the way.

There’s something almost magical about uncomplicating our children’s lives (regardless of their age, be it 8 or 18) and getting them to roll around, so to speak, in good old-fashioned fun, even if it’s just for an hour or two at a time. To be sure, jumping around on a trampoline or going for a hike doesn’t transform children in an instant, nor does it make parenting easy forevermore. By the next day, our girls were back to their usual routine at home and my wife and I were back to the regular push and pull of parenting. But each of these little moments here and there has a positive impact all on its own and a great impact when combined over time.

Parenting is a joy, though it isn’t always easy. And, certainly, it tends not to start off easy with labor and delivery. Who has it harder, the father or the mother? Well, perhaps my daughter does know best; who’s to say?! What I do know, though, is that raising children afterward doesn’t always have to be so hard; sometimes, it can be blessedly easy and uncomplicated, especially when we go back to basics.

By Shoval Gur-Aryeh, PhD

Dr. Gur-Aryeh is a clinical psychologist with a private practice in Saddle Brook, NJ. He works with a wide variety of clients seeking mental health treatment and specializes in mood disorders and addiction in particular. If you would like to contact him, you can do so at [email protected], at 201-406-9710 or through his website at www.shovalguraryehphd.com.

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