Parenting is a downright humbling experience. As all parents know, even our greatest efforts are often met with indifference, apathy and even downright hostility. It’s terrifyingly easy to feel we’re constantly letting someone down: our children, ourselves, or some other real or virtual community that saddles us with yet another set of expectations. From conception on—even preceding conception, these days—the trials and tribulations of raising children are a constant reminder of where we fall short. And I’m only too aware that I speak from the perspective of raising healthy children, surrounded by privileges of which the vast majority of the world’s population can only dream. Yet although I try to remind myself as often as possible how lucky I am—we are—I still succumb too often to the First World problem of feeling not quite “good enough.” Are my kids stimulated? Are they getting the best education? Are they healthy and fit? Do they eat too little or too much? Niggling qualms can wear away at even the most fortunate parents; those doubts are why I'm always drawn to the writers who remind us how lucky we are, rather than how imperfect.
Marie Myung-Ok Lee’s recent piece in The Atlantic, “What my Son’s Disabilities Taught Me About Having it All,” is one of these reminders. Forthright and unsentimental, she brings me closer once again to perspective and balance in my feelings about parenting. Without explicitly condemning parents lucky enough to have only minutiae to obsess over—which private school will accept my preschooler? should we enroll him in swimming or tennis lessons?—Lee gently urges us to recalibrate our idea of parenting challenges. We shouldn’t sweat the small stuff; we should celebrate our incredible good fortune, and most of all, we should press on. It brings to mind Samuel Beckett’s stunningly succinct description of being human: “I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” As a brilliant professor of mine once pointed out, there’s not even a period between those two phrases. The irrepressible human drive to survive, to go on, pushes us forward with only the briefest of pauses to mark the line between the awful difficulty of living and the need to keep on doing it.