Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Parenting Can Break Your Heart, But It Makes You Stronger

A Personal Perspective: Reflections on the "radiant agony" of parenting.

Julia DiGangi
How our children change us
Source: Julia DiGangi

As the sun sets on the pond, my small boy swings his net so hard he stumbles into the water. "Mama!" he hollers. "Did you know fireflies are over 100 million years old?"

"Really?" I look up.

"Mama, when will I be 100 million years old?"

Like a song that I know by heart, I mindlessly launch into "That's a good question. But I don't..."

He interrupts, "What's older: A firefly or the universe?"

Sign me up for "Jeopardy" because yo' girl knows this one.

The universe, my sweet child. The universe.
Sufficiently satisfied, he begins picking seaweed out of his shoe.

In a universe 14 billion years in the making, he is on the eve of his 7th.

In the making of miracles, it's quite impossible for people to prepare you for such supernatural events. For example, I don't care how many times birth has been explained to me, I’m still trying to figure out how in the world we all ended up here.

Mostly though, I'm trying to figure out what happened to my heart.

For the briefest flash of time, this tiny child, the one who turns everything into a ballistic, and me, the one who likes long stretches of uninterrupted time and not being hit in the head with flying objects, have been assigned to co-participate in the Miracle.

And on the eve of his birthday, I can't stop thinking that there's not ever two more rounds—not even two more 7's— this child who devastated me with his coming and who will devastate me with his leaving.

In moments so fleeting they could bring me to my knees if I looked long enough, he and I choose to spend our waning moments catching ancient bugs, chasing ice cream trucks, and seeing what happens if you put pop rocks up your nose (0/5; do not recommend).

Most of my time, though, is spent trying to bear the unbearable brightness of this love.

Of all the paradoxes in my life, it is the commitment of parenting that is the greatest: a bond so deep it suffocates while it expands.

Nothing could prepare me for the unrelenting relentlessness of it all.

"Mama," he claps my attention back to where he always wants it, "Do you think if I try hard enough, I can hit the moon?" Ballistics, again. This time rocks launched from his net.

I'm still shocked by the trauma of it all. I call it the “radiant agony of parenting.”

To cope, I practice my power of surrender—my willingness to let this Life take all of me. Over and over again, motherhood has asked me to surrender so much that I deeply loved: my freedom, my solitude, my spontaneity, my body, and, on plenty of days, my sanity, too.

And in my surrender, I found the only thing I ever wanted: the fiercest bond and the most healing love I have ever known.

Seven years in and, on some days, the surrender feels more like a shattering. But in this shattering, I find space—space to be a little softer, go a little slower, play a little longer. And so, this night, we remain until the last firefly ends his show.

I awake at dawn.

In the soft shadow of dawn's gorgeous light, I see a wet, muddy shoe. In a few moments, he will wake up and ask me to contemplate a thousand impossible things, like how many brachiosauruses can fit in a black hole and how it can be that we only have one lifetime together?

More from Julia DiGangi Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today