I have written plenty of drivel in my blogging career, but I’ve written some things I’m proud to have written. The following piece still rings true to me today, four years after having posted it on another of my blogs, one that still exists but to which I no longer post. This is a slightly edited version of a post from my blog, It Matters Deeply, from January 15, 2011.
Love Beyond Convenience
My decision, that I would not father any children, was made many, many years ago. It’s one decision that I’ve never second-guessed. I knew then, and I know now, I would have made a very poor father. I don’ t have the patience for children.
Rearing children properly requires patience, self-sacrifice, and love beyond convenience. I admire people who do it right. I do not hold the rest in high esteem. Unfortunately, there are far too many who fall into the latter category.
Patience and self-sacrifice are, I think, widely acknowledged as requisites for rearing children who are well-adjusted, happy, and who will grow into decent adults. They’re requisite, but they’re not sufficient by themselves.
When I say “love beyond convenience,” I refer to something I believe is lacking in many parents, something that has damaged and will continue to damage children in their formative years. It’s not the only thing, but it’s an important thing.
Love beyond convenience is what ensures that parents don’t succumb to their children’s insistence that they be fed McDonald’s happy meals instead of healthy diets. Love beyond convenience is what ensures children’s sources of entertainment are not limited to television or video games. Love beyond convenience drives parents to insist that their children develop a love of learning and ideas. It ensures that parents decide that their children’s immediate rejection of exposure to new ideas or new experiences is not sufficient to leave those ideas and experiences, never to be explored again. Love beyond convenience personifies perseverance.
The concept of love beyond convenience is hard to define and may be harder still to understand. The willingness to suffer the inconvenience of taking one’s child to soccer games or violin practice or school plays does not, by itself, demonstrate love beyond convenience. Suffering those mechanical inconveniences may be necessary, but it does not get to the core of what is required of parents.
Insisting that a child read a book instead of scanning the CliffNotes is a sign of love beyond convenience. Refusing to give in to a child’s rejection of an item on the dinner plate by replacing it with her favorite food requires love beyond convenience. A parent who does not immediately accept a child’s accusations of unfairness against a teacher but, instead, takes the time to learn all about the issue and collect information that allows a rational judgement is apt to be one who understands love beyond convenience.
I remember an occasion when I was a sixth-grader when my mother demonstrated love beyond convenience. I had been reading Tortilla Flat and took a copy to school with me and read a passage from the book aloud to a friend. The passage was pleasing to me because of its harsh language; I remember it quite well: “Sicilian bastards! Scum from the prison island! Dogs of dogs of dogs!” My teacher heard me reading the book to my friend and she found it offensive. She took the book away from me and told me I was too young to be reading such books. I am certain I was too young to understand the book well, but my mother did not care. She cared that I wanted to read and that I was reading.
My mother called the teacher and got the teacher’s side of the story; she then told the teacher it did not matter which books I was reading, only that I was reading books, period. She insisted that the book be returned to me. And then my mother told me that she was glad I was reading and enjoying the book, but she took time to explain to me why the teacher did not like hearing me reading such language aloud and why I should not focus only on what was to some foul language but, instead, on the story.
I don’t know how much time my mother spent on what was, after all, not a particularly important issue in the overall scheme of life. I remember she had more important things to do; she was an English teacher and had papers to grade and other children of her own to look after. But she interrupted her life to do the inconvenient thing for me. It would have been easier for her to have ignored it; she could have bought me another copy of the book and left it.
Ultimately, love beyond convenience means doing things that are best for the object of one’s love, rather than taking the easy way. And it’s more complex than it might seem on the surface. It can be downright hard. For example, a parent must be willing to do what is required to question a child’s stories and statements without giving the child the impression the parent thinks the child is a natural-born liar. On the other hand, a parent cannot legitimately assume the child is always telling the truth and is “on the side of right.” Doing it right takes time, energy, and more love than some people are capable of giving to a child. They may be able only to love one person, perhaps a spouse, with that level of energy and devotion.
Those people, the ones who can’t do it right, shouldn’t have children.