By Qin Sun Stubis
(originally published in The Santa Monica Star)
Babies come into this world everyday; at home, in a hospital, on a train, or even in an alley. In spite of the varied lives into which they’re born, their first reaction to the world is largely predictable: They inhale their first breath of our earthly air and then start to cry, some more loudly than others, the only innate way they know how to announce their arrival.
To many, a baby’s first cry is a cry of joy, the proclamation of a life entering the world, like a seedling first poking its head above the ground, ready to be nurtured and grow. How this life, or any life, will actually grow, however, very much depends on its environment and those who attend to it on a daily basis. As a result, every individual, whether a plant or person, becomes unique.
When I was a little girl in China, my mother once asked me unexpectedly, “Why do babies always cry when they enter the world?” She then proceeded to answer for me: “Because they know life is not easy. They will have to go through years of growing pains before they become adults.” I wasn’t quite sure what kinds of pains she was talking about.
To think back on my own childhood, I feel very lucky to have such an understanding mother who tried hard to protect me from these growing pains so I never felt overwhelmed. It was the time of the Cultural Revolution. Life was hard enough without my own growing-up problems. Every time I got frustrated or had trouble understanding certain hows and whys in life, my mother was there to explain things to me slowly and carefully, in such a gentle way so that I could gradually absorb them. There were times she just wouldn’t let me dig into some subjects, which she simply dismissed by saying, “You’ll understand in a few years.” She made me wish to grow up fast.
Now, I’m a grown person. I’ve come to a realization that adults don’t have answers to every question. While learning to be a parent, I often found the hardest part of my day was to explain sensitive matters to my children, provide them with emotional support, give them confidence about themselves, and teach them about social injustice, physical impairments, or the frailty of life.
Since children grow up day by day, year by year, timing becomes essential as to when to explain what. We have to use our best judgment to decide when they are ready to face what, and how to explain things gently enough so that they can absorb the content and gain the strength to understand reality.
For children, initial learning is hard but vital. How they perceive matters early in life often affects their perceptions for the rest of their lives. In some ways, we, the adults, give them the reference points to understand how and why things have to be this way or that, which often become the basis of their beliefs. In that sense, we are not just raising children but future adults. “The child is father of the man,” as William Wordsworth once put it.
We, the parents, have to work on a nearly two-decade-long “production line” to nurture our babies to adulthood. Easing their growing pains is a struggle, but in the end helps both parents and children learn, grow, and find happiness even when life is not easy.
You can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.