Love may be nature’s way to trick us into perpetuating our specie but having children changes the game of life fundamentally. We may be captives of nature but it is paradoxically liberating to take control of life. Parenting is arguably the most exhausting voluntary responsibility ever — you take on a job that lasts the rest-of-your-lifetime and one that is mostly thankless.
And that’s not even counting the many nights without sleep and the anti-climactic cycle of feeding and cleaning them in the early years. Or even the foolishness and heartaches of their alarming adolescence. The expiry date on parenthood is death. You stop thinking, worrying, praying for your children only when you go lie six feet below in the brown earth that gave you birth.
But parenthood is certainly not without its weird wonders and sinful splendours. For one thing, life wouldn’t exist without it. And what could possibly be more precious than consciousness of oneself and the slow realisation of the astounding Universe around us? Much before we choose parenthood (or it is thrust upon us with vengeance, which is usually the case for us in Pakistan, often by our parents than by our hearts) we are ourselves the result of parenthood.
Life is often beautiful when you’re growing up. Even the economically marginalised often nurse this feeling. But it never really occurs to us to thank our parents for this gift until it’s our turn at parenthood.
The biggest tax on life is not what the Federal Board of Revenue conspires against us (though Lord knows it feels that way) as a penalty for a gifted joy. Parenthood is.
As I near the personal milestone of completing 50 years of life I find myself increasingly pondering where did all these years go? They are slipping through my fingers. As a parent of two teens who are technically adults, having crossed the abstract landmark of turning 18 (they become freewill practitioners much earlier these days), it is rarely without startling myself every day that I realise how much effort it has taken to make them who the wonderful unique selves they are.
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It takes a full 18 years to nurture your children to 18 years. Not a single day less. The TORs of parenthood of children come without weekends, public holidays or summer vacations.
Parenthood may have its evolutionary imperatives and biological compulsions, and provide its sociological highs, but it does not come without its economic consequences. There used to be a time when children were raised not just by parents but by extended families. Even the neighbourhood and society-at-large chipped in. It used to ‘take a village’, as they say.
My generation is one of the last ones who were nurtured this way in our early years. Now the costs are prohibitive.
Take formal education. A good private urban school primary-to-matriculation education in Pakistan can cost you north of Rs2.5m per child. Higher education costs can climb to three times as much. Don’t even try calculating the expenses of their clothes, food, communications (those dreaded shiny mobiles and tablets) and other sundry costs all these years.
Children are ‘a bundle of joy’, sure. Only if you don’t think too much about the ‘bundle of cash’ you pay for this joy. This is not a lament, really, but determines what you do with the best years of your life: keeping the world comfortable for your children. After all, if we think education is expensive, we should try ignorance.
But parenthood, above all, is not just a fundamental experience of us being human. It is, really, part of the grand adventure of Life itself. All Life. At the heart of the tenacious rebellion against Nothingness — after all, the Universe is hostile to biology— lies Life. And at the heart of Life lies parenthood. It’s the manifestation of the primal duty of Life. It’s who we are and what makes us, us! Until we acquire a post-Human phase in our Darwinian evolution when we morph from a biological existence to a machine manifestation (and beyond, into an evolved higher massless ‘ascension’ — what they call ‘Singularity’), at the human-sociological level, the Cycle of Life has four distinct stages. Each deals with parenthood.
In the first stage, we are children to our parents. In the second, we are parents to our children. In the third, we are parents to our parents. In the fourth, we are children to our children. That then is the bare-bones of parenthood: both an ecstasy and a horror.
The children, the result of our parenthood, are biology’s way of transcending our tragic physical limitations. It is how we combat Eternity. By passing on the baton. Children are literally a life-affirming link between the past and the future. I can’t bring back my father from oblivion — now gone for 20 years, and how I miss him every single day; or turn back Time to bring my bed-ridden mother to her zesty old-self again — but every single day I sneak a look at Miran and Sunaina, Ismat and my children, and I see that they will travel to the stars and they’ll take a bit of my parents (and their parents before them), and me, with them. Parenthood is worth it all.