We parents are often reminded that we are the primary educators of our children - that the attitudes, behavior, and values we encourage in our offspring will have a greater impact on them than anything they learn elsewhere.
While this theory is probably true, there is a reverse side to the coin that often goes unnoticed: Not only do we teach our children, we also learn from them. By their very existence they challenge us to be more than we are, offer us new perspectives, and introduce us to pleasures we might have ignored, had the children not been a part of our lives.
What parent, for instance, has not experienced the fascination of watching ants at work, or the fun of building a snowman, or the joy of going barefoot in a summer rain - thanks to a preschooler who's learning about the world? Such simple episodes become a welcome break from a hectic adult pace, an opportunity to appreciate the beauty of nature. Seen through a small child's wondering eyes, the heavens and the earth reveal themselves to us - and we grow rich in rediscovery.
What parent hasn't found that a second-grade soccer match or a Little League contest is infinitely more exciting than professional sports - because our own children are on the teams?
As children develop their natural talents, they lead us into uncharted but fascinating territory. Who would have thought that one of my offspring would choose to study the flute - and another, the oboe?
Having no familiarity with either instrument, I've marveled at my youngsters' ability to grasp the intricacies of music sheets, tone quality, rhythm, and style. The strange cadences drifting through the house provide a pleasant contrast to the blare of radio and TV; their band uniforms transform them into distinguished and competent strangers I can only admire from afar. And the music! How glad I am to be a part of it all, thanks to my young students.
And I wouldn't have missed the experience of a small science expert, either - sharing the slide of a butterfly wing, watching to see if the chicken eggs really hatch, strolling through the bewildering display of wire and metal at science fairs.
Is there a parent who hasn't reluctantly OK'd a family pet, then fallen in love with the furry bundle? Or a mother who hesitantly volunteered as school fine-arts chairwoman, discovered a latent interest in painting, and headed back to school to pursue this long-abandoned hobby? We think we are doing these things for the children, to teach them and guide their paths, but often our assumed sacrifices lead to enrichment of our own lives as well.
Like every parent, I've also learned about how much stress the average shower faucet can tolerate (less than I thought). I've discovered more than I ever wanted to know about teen moodiness, college entrance requirements, and how many pairs of jeans can fit in a duffle bag (and how many duffle bags can fit into the car trunk on the way to campus and a brand-new life).
But perhaps the most valuable lessons our children teach us involve our own development and growth. From hesitant, afraid-to-make-mistakes beginners, we somehow turn into people who accept our limitations, trust our instincts, and aren't afraid to be unpopular once in a while. From somewhere deep within us, we tap wellsprings of patience, self-control, humor, and dedication - qualities that might never have surfaced otherwise. Pushed to the limits of our potential, we've become more than we once were, because of the challenge of parenthood and the power of love.
The children have made us what we are today.