Many years ago, I came across an article entitled “Why do we work?”, in Fortune Magazine. It began with the following story:

“In the days of misty towers, distressed maidens, and stalwart knights, a young man, walking along the road, came upon a labourer fiercely pounding away at a stone with a hammer and chisel. The lad asked the worker, who looked frustrated and angry, “What are you doing?” The labourer answered in a pained voice. “I am trying to shape this stone, and it is backbreaking work.”

The youth continued his journey and soon came upon another man chipping away at a similar stone, who looked neither particularly angry nor happy. “What are you doing?” he asked. “I’m shaping a stone for a building.”

The young man went on and before long came to a third worker chipping away at a stone, but this worker was singing happily as he worked. “What are you doing?” The worker smiled and replied, “I am building a cathedral.”

And so it goes with parenting. We can choose to think of parenting in terms of the short-term sheer drudgery. We can choose to focus on the nappies, the bathing floods, the runny noses, the food wars, the sibling scraps, the room-tidying battles, the school lunches, the jazz ballet costumes, the struggling to stay awake to pick up our teens and ferry them safely home.

Or we can focus on the middle term view and the carting home of wet art masterpieces, the torment of piano practice, the birthday parties, the hours of standing in windy sports fields, the projects, the homework sheets, the spelling lists, the report evenings, (“I’m afraid that we’re having a little trouble focussing”), the school camps, the driving lessons, the friendship heartbreaks and the school balls.

Or, we can choose to lift our heads above the relentless nature of the job, the repetitive tasks, the sheer exhaustion, the planning, the worrying, and the yelling and the screaming (ours or theirs!). We can focus on the long-term goals of what we are setting out to achieve. We are aiming to send off into the world an independent young adult with good social skills, a sense of responsibility, the capacity to be a good friend and a good sport, a young adult with the full complement of values and virtues and, hopefully, a natural urge to pop home to see “the olds” every now and again.

The same article declared that one of the reasons we work is “for the money.” Well, I have news for the author. We parents have known for a long time that no-one could pay us enough money for the work we do. The reason that we work so hard and so willingly, is because every day we are “building cathedrals.”

Raising a child to independent adulthood is cathedral-building work. Just like the labourer chipping away looking frustrated and angry, a lot of our work can be thought of as tedious, repetitive, unappreciated and backbreaking.

You will notice that I did not include the word “soul-destroying.” That is because, like the third labourer, we choose not to itemise our Job Description into categories like nose-wiping, nappy changing, shouting orders, night-watchman, spell-checker, door monitor, transport officer or puddle-soaker-extraordinaire. We see the overview. We are working towards the completion of our cathedrals.

When next you visit a cathedral, give some thought, not only to the architect and the project manager, but also to the many artisans without whom the project could not have been completed.

When next you see a child, an adolescent, an adult, or any half-way decent human being, remember the architect, the project manager, and the artisans, all of whom are wrapped into one person who answers to the call of “Mu-u-u-m” or “Da-a-a-d.”

And when next you see me cuddling my child, don’t be surprised if I say “Sh-h-h-h! I’m building a cathedral!”

 

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Diane Levy’s warm, humorous, practical and commonsense approach to raising children is evident in her writing, her speaking and her private practice in Auckland as a family therapist. Her main focus is on coaching parents. She is also the author of the best-seller “Of course I love you…NOW GO TO YOUR ROOM”, “They look so lovely when they’re asleep” and “Time Out for tots, teens and everyone in between."

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