Traditional wedding vows spell out what is expected of us in marriage: "To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part."
Parenthood requires no such verbal agreement. Yet these same vows surely apply to having a child. Most of us who sign on acknowledge this, understanding this is one irrevocable deal.
The To Have part generally proves unpleasant, especially for the mother. We endure nine months of anxiety, emerging stretch marks and intrusive medical instruments. The incubation period culminates in a formidable event purported to be part of the cycle of life, but which seems to indicate God has a rather sick sense of humor.
But the To Hold component wipes the slate clean. As soon as we hold that infant in our arms, we've already--in our minds--ushered in the For Better part.
Oh, the For Better! It's the stuff parental dreams are made of. The first smile and first steps, the soccer goals and dance recitals, and that march across the stage for the happy hand-off of a diploma. We cling forever to the moments--and the memories--of the For Better.
Yet, in between, lurk those For Worse times. Lord, we struggle with those. The grocery store tantrums, the turmoil of that first broken heart, the wild arcs of teenage rebellion or withdrawal. Sure, we've been warned, but nothing truly prepares us for them. If we've ever considered backing out of the deal, it's during the For Worse.
And For Richer? Well, that's a misnomer. From the cost of diapers to college tuition, parenthood sucks us dry. Once children enter the picture, it's always, always For Poorer. We can only sigh at our pile of bills and write another damn check.
We welcome In Health with a different sort of sigh--one of relief and gratitude. As we look around and view children who are the victims of fatal genetic diseases, cancer or life-altering accidents, we reconsider the possibilities of what we once believed to be For Worse. Nothing puts our own In Sickness experiences--the middle-of-the-night ER visits and basketball injuries--more in perspective than a child with a brain tumor.
None of us chooses to dwell on the idea of Until Death Do Us Part. We can endure almost anything. Except that.
We strive to keep our unspoken vows to our children as they grow up. And even as they grow--or move--away.
We'd like to be by their side for everything they experience: for the agony and the ecstasy. But from that first slumber party to their first night in a new apartment eight hundred miles away, we realize we must allow them to inch away from our arms. To become self-assured, self-motivated and self-sufficient.
We take a forever-vow to Hold them, yet we can't hold our children in our grasp forever.
All we can do, ultimately, is hold them close in our heart.
And have them promise to call us, frequently. They can keep that one little vow, right?
Any trouble letting go? What's the For Better or the For Worse you've experienced?