For whatever reason all our conferences start on Sundays; quite often there is a lecture and several presentations crammed into the arrival day. People mill around, register, get their badges and programs, greet each other, attend a welcome reception which may be anything, from a good-sized dinner to beer, cheese and crackers or chips. Every evening large or small groups form spontaneously to have dinner at a nearby café, and to talk shop or to relax or both. Occasionally participants would suddenly remember that I am just an accompanying person who has no idea what they are talking about, and ask me, predictably, about our kids. I in turn would ask those I know about theirs. Thus it came about that a fortyish woman (forty is the twenty, so a young woman) said loudly into a pause, “I just can’t understand all this fascination with kids! I mean, you have a child, you take care of it for the first five years, then it goes to school, and then what?!” For a moment there was total silence at our large table. Then all of us sort of had a domino effect, laughing till tears came, some clapping their hands, others trying to say something and failing.
Rather than trying to persuade her there was life on Mars, in other words kids do not stop being kids after the first five years, parenthood is for life – we formed smaller groups within groups and continued our conversations. Those with younger kids would turn to us for advice and opinion; those whose children are all grown and flown would simply exchange the news and mull over the many similar or widely differing paths our adult kids had taken. Some grew up, got their education and now are scientists, teachers, but also managers, veterinarians, musicians, medics. “Our youngest is the only one who seems to have a purpose in life; she got her degree and is now teaching science at a lyceum. But the two older ones… Well, one says he is a musician; he travels around Europe, plays his guitar at a café or a street corner, and regularly sends in a request for money. The eldest doesn’t want to do anything, so she is still with us”, confided an old acquaintance. “Well, our only daughter got her degree at the same university I and my wife did, then gave us her certificates, got married, and now she seems to produce a child a year, she is a homemaker. But her husband works and provides for them all, they are very content, and so are we”, said another. Everybody usually has a different story; there are no guarantees, no rules.
Naturally most of us would prefer it that our children follow our paths in life, more or less. On the other hand, none of us probably wants them to encounter the same problems and obstacles as we all had, yet we also know that life is strife. Nobody has it easy in science and research. In fact, there is no such thing as a free lunch in any sphere of work. One of the greatest parental difficulties is probably this: acceptance. Understanding our own children when they choose something totally unexpected, vastly different from whatever the family tradition dictates is not easy. “All of us have been medics for generations, and now my own daughter refused to apply for a medical university, she chose a veterinarian institute instead! What can we do?!” asked a pediatrician friend. I pointed out that, first, healing is what the young girl imbibed from her very first days on earth; second, she wants to do something, not loll around in her parents’ house doing nothing or roam the streets, become a drug addict et cetera. This helped the family open up their eyes and take notice.
One very important factor unites all of us parents thankfully: LOVE. There is a recurrent scene in some American TV shows and movies, which I never get. “He/she became impossible so we kicked them out”, says a mother or father. Another version is, when the relatives learn that their offspring committed a crime, “He is a good boy! (She is a good girl!)” Love as we know can be blind. But surely that “impossible” child exhibited some strange behavior previously. Maybe it was a cry for help, or an alarm bell. Nothing comes of nothing, this saying cuts both ways. If parents do nothing, something bad may eventually happen. If the child does some bad things which are habitually covered up or worse, ignored, they grow up thinking that it is all right to do them. Because the children do not know any better, they only know what we adults teach them in the very beginning of their life.
Love means action, understanding and patience. Love your child even if they do not look and act like you, even when they continuously remind you of the mother-in-law, when they turn into incomprehensible creatures who make you wonder what happened to that lovely chubby baby you brought home many years ago. Teach them everything you can think of. You are a scientist, a researcher, right? Remember the old joke: a researcher is a person who is more interested in the process than in the result. Bringing up children is a process, and the result depends on you. It is certainly a much longer process than the initial five years.