What is a parent?

May 12, 2017
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by Lindsey J. Wimmer, RN, MSN, CPNP, CPLC

This month we will be ‘celebrating’ Mother’s Day.  And next month we will follow it by ‘celebrating’ Father’s Day.  I use that term cautiously because there are many mothers, fathers, and children who don’t feel like celebrating every year.  Some do not have living children and aren’t sure if they qualify as parents.  Some are torn between the dual emotions of being happy with living children and grieving children who have died.  Many worry that society has forgotten the child(ren) that the world can’t see.  Others feel left out because infertility, divorce, illness, or other issues have denied them from having the family they desire. How do we honor these mothers, fathers, grandmothers, and grandfathers?

In my mind, the best way is to acknowledge that they are parents and encourage them to be the best parents they can be.

How do we know someone is a parent?

It isn’t just because they have a small person that they take care of.  We know parents by the sparkle in their eye when someone asks about their child or the pride in their shoulders when someone comments on their child’s character traits.  Parents are always thinking about their children.  They work very hard to protect them and help them.  They love them unconditionally for every day of their lives.

These are qualities of people who are stay-home parents and doing this plus the daily tasks of physical and emotional care.  But they are also qualities of parents who have watched their children grow into adults and have their own families, have children who are estranged from the family, are away in school or the military, were adopted, have died, or are separated from the parent by any number of forces.  These actions don’t require the child to be present on a daily basis.

Parents represent love, compassion, selflessness, patience, hope, joy, sorrow, caring, empathy, flexibility, leadership, worry, trust, honesty, acceptance, experience, values, and much more.  While we can’t be all of these things all of the time, they all play a role in our parenting style.  And every single grieving parent I have ever met exhibits these same qualities.  Amazingly, they do it while also finding a way to manage paralyzing heartache.

I have often said that my work with Star Legacy Foundation is how I parent my son, Garrett.  It looks very different than how I parent my living children, but it comes from the same sources within me.  I am proud of all of my children, would do anything for them, and smile when I think of them.  I will love them until my last breath, and they all have a special place in my heart that I didn’t know existed before I knew them.  They all make me want to be a better person and to make this world a better place.  I can’t rely on hugs and kisses to tell Garrett what he means to me, but I can tell him in many other ways.

Parenting is so much more than changing diapers, managing soccer schedules, and providing healthy meals.  It is pursuing hopes and dreams beyond your personal benefit.  It is being vulnerable when your heart grows exponentially.  It is living your life for someone else.  These are the actions we can encourage when we help others become quality parents.  How are you making an impact on this world?  What dreams do/did you have for your child?  How can you help support those dreams?  What can you do today that represents your love for your child?

Those who are missing a parent may also find these holidays difficult.  But I would urge you to think of the same things.  What qualities did your parent teach you?  How are you honoring their hopes and dreams?  Is there something you can do that represents your love for him/her or his/hers for you?

The bond between parent and child is a special and sacred gift.  It exists regardless of time or distance.  We all nourish and treasure it in our own ways.

That is what we can celebrate on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.   We can celebrate those bonds and the work we do every day to honor them.  Everyone who is a parent in these terms deserves to be recognized. Even if the child is not with the parent, or the parent is not with the child.  It may or may not look like we once dreamed, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t just as special or powerful.  It may be even more so.


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