Unsolvable Love: Alternative Visions of Parenthood

Over the years I have offered countless lectures, workshops and seminars for parents on the wonders and woes of childrearing. Invariably, during the question-and-answer phase, an attendee will make an inquiry along the lines of the following: “If you could leave us with just one piece of advice, the most important takeaway from your presentation, what would it be?”

Early in my career, I have to confess that I used to bristle a bit upon hearing this question. After having usually spent at least an hour, and sometimes an entire day or more, discussing and exploring the kaleidoscopic complexity of the parent-child relationship with great depth and sophistication (at least from my perspective), how was I supposed to be able to condense everything that I had so earnestly conveyed into a simple tip or maxim — and not sound clichéd when doing so?

Eventually, though, I began to see the value in coming up with a thoughtful response. Few undertakings are as daunting, and as overwhelming, as parenthood. So who could blame well-intentioned, eager-to-learn participants from requesting one thought, one insight, one potentially family-changing idea that they could bring home with them to reflect upon, to share with a spouse or friend or child, or — if necessary — to simply forget about?

Once I reconciled myself to the legitimacy of this question, I chose to conscientiously comply. However, being the kind of individual who bores easily, I made a little promise to myself that I would work very hard to ensure that I never repeated myself — in other words, the personal challenge that I devoted myself to was that I would attempt to come up with something new each time I was asked.

Of course, over time, this promise became impossible to fulfill. But I certainly gave it the old college try, and endeavored to go at least months, if not years, before I circled back to an epigram that I had previously supplied. Recently, I decided to compile these, and it is from this collation that I have selected the thirty that I am sharing with you in this post.

While I have never really believed that parents need advice or suggestions, I do believe that they frequently benefit from support, perspective, and a certain normalizing companionship. I hope that one or more of these aphorisms offer these, and through so doing, deepen, soften, and illuminate your relationship with your child — and perhaps even with yourself.

  1. Locate the part of yourself within which your expectations of your child reside. Spend some time there, just listening.
  2. Children ask their parents to save them from what they fear, but parents make the same request of their children.
  3. Children are more likely to change for the better if they know that they will be loved and accepted for staying the same.
  4. Childhood should be a preparation for adulthood, not a production for adults. The child’s primary objective is to transform, not to perform.
  5. We need to have more faith in our children than they have in themselves.
  6. We are defined not by what we achieve and accomplish, but by what we have undergone and overcome.
  7. Our main job as parents is to attract our child’s curiosity regarding why he does what he does and why he doesn’t do what he should
  8. We parent best not on the basis that there is a problem to be solved but that there is a capacity for thinking and feeling to be developed
  9. There is always a truth that hides within our own disturbing, unnerving feelings about our child, and it is a truth that deserves to be uncovered—which is best done by continuing to feel disturbed and unnerved.
  10. Every child is calling out across the distance, hoping to be heard. The distance is generally greater than either of you think.
  11. Take pleasure in what satisfies you about your child, but take interest in what doesn’t.
  12. The mystery that inheres in our children — what we don’t and can’t understand about them — is their most meaningful gift to us, and what ultimately sustains us. Pity the parent who believes that he understands his child.
  13. Don’t work to improve your child’s life — work to help her live it. She’ll take care of the rest.
  14. The parent is responsible for laying out the possibility that, together, parent and child can co-author a story that changes both of them forever.
  15. Now and then, give yourself a chance to completely abandon childrearing advice.
  16. Don’t count on your child to relieve you of yourself.
  17. We all fail at the idea of family — that we fail, and how we fail, can be our greatest triumph.
  18. Let your child gather his sadness around him, like a cloak. Admire and revere the cloak, for it is warming him. But don’t touch the cloak.
  19. It can be a great relief to know that you and your child are just like everyone else — aim to be ordinary.
  20. Children show us the face that they want us to see but pray that they can’t completely hide the face that they need us to see.
  21. Very little separates the pain of loss from the pleasure of possibility.
  22. Whatever you are convinced is happening with or to your child, trust that something else is also going on.
  23. Parents who try to be too democratic exert their own, unique form of oppression.
  24. What kind of parent doesn’t wail once in a while? Or at least lock herself in the bathroom?
  25. Raise children to be true to their own intentions, and hope and trust that at least some of their intentions will seem misguided to you and lead them astray — by your definition.
  26. Don’t ever give up hope for your children, but don’t ever forget how liberating it would be if you released yourself from hope’s relentless burden.
  27. More important than any other logic is the logic of your child’s imagination.
  28. Not everything needs to be said. The unsayable can be precious, too.
  29. Children want us to be proud of them and also to worry about them — our task is to convince them that we prize the former over the latter, while still acknowledging that the former will leave us lonelier than the latter.
  30. Growth depends on experiencing love and love’s absence, and the capacity to fully fear both of them.

Dr. Brad Sachs is a Challenge Success Advisory Council member, and is a psychologist, educator, consultant, and best-selling author specializing in clinical work with children, adolescents, couples, and families. He is also the Founder and Director of The Father Center, a program designed to meet the needs of new, expectant, and experienced fathers. www.drbradsachs.com