Though we think we are the teachers and it is our children who are growing, parenting is an endless growth experience.
In spite of my best intentions, I made mistakes. I did my best to be fair. I certainly didn’t want my middle child to feel neglected as I had felt (even though I wasn’t neglected by my own parents).
Recently, when my little niece showed me her wiggly tooth, I recalled the tooth fairy leaving a dollar for each of my children’s teeth, but I could recall fewer fairy visits for my middle child.
I panicked. Had I neglected him in spite of my best efforts?
I asked him, “Do you remember the Tooth Fairy giving you money for your teeth?”
“Only when I told you and mom,” he answered.
That night, he produced a bottle of baby teeth.
When my kids would do things that irritated me, I soon realized that most of the time they were reflecting aspects of my own personality – or my wife’s – that I had to acknowledge and make peace with.
Along with my patients, they were my great teachers in life. Our relationships prompted me to be more attentive and mindful, and they taught me to put their interests above my own. Unlike my polite patients, my kids would tell me when I was wrong or when they thought I was a goof.
I cherish the rituals of our family dinners, drives to school and story time. Every night, I would make up a new story, and they would wake me up if I drifted off in mid-sentence.
I loved playing with them in the playground, riding the train in Stanley Park and taking them to movies. When she was a toddler, my daughter would hop onto my lap during the scary parts, and at the climax of every movie, she had to go to the washroom.
We have a DVD collection with all those movies – so I was able to see what I had missed.
When one of my sons was unable to recall the moment he was able to cycle without training wheels, it reminded me of a medical student I had mentored who forgot the excitement of the first delivery he attended with me.
To me those moments remained vivid in my memory and I was at first disappointed, but I realized that the things we do for others we do for them and not ourselves. It is giving forward. Though they may forget who taught them, they still have learned.
All that we’ve learned has come from countless teachers, and we owe a debt to many that cannot be repaid. When we can’t give back, we give forward.
My children have made me a more compassionate person. Every person is someone’s child, and I know how a parent loves a child at every age and in every culture.