If you’re too busy building a comfortable life, the true blessing of having kids might just pass you by. Being a parent is hard, and when the going really gets tough, it’s easy to quit. Not literally of course, you don’t just give up on being a parent, but in a more subtle way you can give up on the very things that having kids does to shape you into a better person.
If you started out as a parent with a warm fuzzy idea of what it would be like to have kids, you might have been in for a shock. There’s plenty to be delighted by as a parent, but it’s also incredibly challenging. And what can happen, whether you were prepared or not, is that you start raising kids in search of those more ‘delightful’ moments and trying to do everything to skip over the hard parts.
That’s not unique to having kids. Throughout life, when things get hard the first thing we want to do is make those things stop. Whether you’re studying, exercising, trying to stay true to a diet, trying to puzzle through some tricky situation with friends or at work, you reach moments where you’re confronted by a barrier that you know is going to require extra effort or pain to break through. Our instinct when we reach those situations is to turn around and go in the other direction. To avoid the situation or person altogether and get back to a place of safety. It's why so often I find myself choosing comfort and convenience ahead of creativity and confrontation. It’s just so much easier to opt for those things than push through to the other side.
It should be no surprise that we have this same attitude when it comes to kids. Instead of confronting we choose convenience when things get hard. When I’m tired or embarrassed I try and make life more comfortable rather than deal with the issue at hand. Just imagine the situation where you’ve got one of your kids in the middle of the supermarket having a paddy about wanting something added to the trolley. You’ve told them no, but now they’re on the floor screaming and crying and make a big scene. You’ve got a choice to make. In the moment, we desperately want the pain to stop, we want people to stop looking at us, we don’t want to be embarrassed. The temptation is to roll back on what you’ve said and choose the quiet life where your kid gets what they want, and you make the discomfort of their very public tantrum stop.
While it’s one example, if you take that approach again and again, you miss the real blessing of having kids. The real blessing is not running for the shelter of comfort but standing and dismantling the barrier in front of you. It’s in these moments that we learn patience; to have the courage of our convictions; and to be gracious. These moments of discomfort are the moments that help us grow beyond our fear of what others will say. These are the moments that force us to communicate more clearly, or learn more about the right moment to stand firm and the right moment to let things slide. If we’re always saying ‘yes’ when we’re ground down, or avoid the confrontation of bad behaviour through distraction or let awkward, but teachable moments pass us by, our kids miss out, but we too miss out on having our own character shaped for the better.
There are plenty of moments as a parent where discomfort is unavoidable, and we know that these moments have the power to enrich our lives. We know this because these are the stories we love to tell other people. There’s the time you got covered in sick or poo, or the embarrassing comment your kid made to someone that you had to sort out. In those instance, we can’t quite believe what we’ve gone through and can’t help but share it. We’re quietly proud of the what our kids have made us learn about ourselves. In contrast, noone is out there sharing stories of how they bribed their kids to stay quiet by putting an IPhone in front of them for a few hours. If we spend our time trying to remove moments of discomfort and limit our inconvenience, we know we’ll be poorer for it.
The truth is, the best things happen when we’re uncomfortable, but we often feel we’re in a battle to make life easier, or more comfortable. We know we’ll feel better after having gone to the gym, or feel better when we’ve had the hard conversation we know we had to have with a family member. We feel better when we chose self-control in what we ate, or the words we said. It’s no different with kids. The best things happen when we’re forced to confront things in love, or our kids encourage us to do something we’ve never done before.
Yet we pacify our kids with TV, a snack, or a phone; we say ‘no’ to their wants because we’re tired; or raise our voice because we’re done trying to explain what we mean. We tell ourselves that we do these things because ‘I just can’t keep going…’ and need a rest. And while that is true at times, I know a lot of times personally that I’m not doing these things because I’ve weighed it up seriously and am proactively choosing to let something go to give myself a break. If I’m being honest, I’m just letting myself be ruled by what’s comfortable.
Comfort ultimately is a killer. Comfort is what grows our waistbands; comfort is what keeps us from being kind and generous to others; comfort stops us trying new things, meeting new people, and experiencing the world through different eyes. All around us in our corner of the world we live with a dream of comfort that is sold to us day-in, day-out. Buy this product, take this holiday, enjoy these experiences, decorate your home this way. And while they are in themselves fine, if they’re the end, rather than the means to something greater, we’re essentially buying into the idea that comfort matters above all else. Even when we know that’s not the case.
If I live like that though, I model to my kids that comfort matters above all else to them as well. Kids pay attention to what we do more than the advice we give, so if we’re not careful our lifestyles will send them a very clear message – strive for comfort – and they too will miss out on the true richness of life. Comfort never lives up to its billing, and comfort never delivers, so if we implicitly teach our kids to live for comfort we’ll be failing them.
Our kids should see us breaking free of what is comfortable to know that comfort is not the ideal. If they see us confront things when it’s inconvenient to us, see us challenging them on their behaviour when it’s difficult for us, see us stand up for them, or do something hard or embarrassing because it’s the right thing to do, we will not only be changed ourselves, but our kids will grow up to know that discomfort brings richness to their life too.