Jackson Biko reflects on the sacrifices we make when raising children, and what happens when they leave
You want to live longer. You want to live and see your kids grow up. Watch them get their degrees, discover the world, discover themselves. Then you want to watch them leave the nest and find their own nests, and you hope their lives will be better than the life you raised them in and you hope they find what everybody else is looking for. Happiness. Contentment. Good health. Those things.
However, in between, you don’t want to stop living for yourself, the way our parents did. You don’t want to wait and start living only towards the tail end of your life when you are already too worn-out to bungee jump, when you are already diabetic, too jaded to fly twelve hours to see the pyramids or walk the China Wall, too weak to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. You don’t want to get to a point where you are too uninspired to find a new hobby, like photography, skydiving, BASE jumping, hiking, butterfly farming, marathon running. You don’t want to be the guy who is asked at an advanced age: what did you do? and all you can think of is saying, “I lived for my children.” Which is great and commendable and noble, but children will grow and children should grow with you.
But I think children shouldn’t be an obstacle that stands in our way to happiness and self-fulfillment. Because children grow up and then children leave and they leave you with this ugly hole, and you sit down and you can’t think of a single thing you want to do with your life anymore, because all you knew for the past 25 years was raising them. That was your profession. Now you don’t know what to do. You don’t even know who you are when that purpose has been fulfilled.
You know what I think children want? Children want us to be happy too. I think children can tell when we are unhappy. They can tell when the very act of toiling for them, of striving for their happiness, is taking a toll on us. They can tell when the sacrifices we make for them are turning us into controlling and obsessive people who want to manage every bit of their lives. And I don’t think they love that. I think they are smarter than they look, sitting there watching cartoons with their mouths half-open. I think they want to grow up feeling like we had fun raising them, that it wasn’t a prison of obligations for us.
We also have to accept that sometimes children won’t turn out to be what we want them to turn out to be. You might sell land and sell your cows and get loans from banks and sell off your stocks to see them through school, and sometimes they will drop out, or finish and get into drugs or alcohol or they will decide to join a weird church or flee the continent and join a small tribe in Asia who eat orangutans for dessert and pierce their nipples as a sign of respect to their god. Then what? I will tell you what? Then you die slowly of resentment, of heartbreak, of disappointment. You will think of all the sacrifices you made and you will want to pierce more than their nipples.
So live a little.