From early in life we’re conditioned to try and find satisfaction in completing a task - tidy your room, eat your dinner, finish your homework, write your essay, complete your assignment. Even into early adulthood many of our achievements are ‘tick the box and on to the next thing accomplishments’ – get your licence, buy a car, move out of home, graduate university, get a job. The satisfaction is in completing something, knowing that you are moving on to something new – a new activity, a new task, a new experience. A sense of accomplishment comes from finishing tasks.
Parenting, on the other hand, tests that idea. Everything is on-going. We wipe bottoms, apply powder and dispose of nappies, battle through dinner time, wipe up vomit, wipe noses, change clothes, extinguish tantrums, wash, clean and wash, wash and clean - knowing full well that it’s only a matter of time before we do those tasks again, and then again.
Parenting is the ultimate, open ended task. We have no idea how successful we are at it, or which things matter the most in the long run, or how our kids will turn out. We just keep wiping mouths, making lunches and putting away toys.
Satisfaction comes in not finishing the task, but in being able to keep going tomorrow. It makes me appreciate my wife, who has the astonishing capability to keep going tomorrow far better than I can. She’s a task orientated person who seems undaunted by having to repeat these tasks over and over because the sense of accomplishment doesn’t come finishing the task, it’s in being there tomorrow.
Photo credit: Martin Charette CC2.0