What does it mean to be a parent?

This past June I was asked by the grade 12 students to make a speech at their graduating ceremony. I taught a lot of them physics, but this year, my son was also graduating from high school and he was a friend to many of these students, so this was a natural ask. I was honored, nonetheless.

I thought long and hard what I would say, and finally I decided that explaining to them what it means to be a parent would be my focus. I thought I would share the speech with you, although I took out any of the personal stuff, that only my students would understand. Ok, so here is my speech:

Although I am the mother of one of you, I feel like I am also the mother of a lot of you.

It is almost impossible to describe how a parent feels about their child to anybody that has never been a parent. All of you students that have graduated today are non-parents, so I think I need to explain this part of the relationship. You already know how to be a son or daughter, how to ask for money, how to leave a mess in the kitchen, how to ask for forgiveness. You are experts at this.

But do you know what it means to be a parent? Why we treat you the way we do? Why we are so annoying? You have no idea!

So here is a great analogy I heard a long time ago: a child is like an extra limb of a parent. When an arm gets hurt, the parent feels the pain. Similarly, when a child gets hurt, the parent feels the same pain. When the arm is warm and healthy, the parent feels good as well. Don’t get me wrong, I realize that you are all physically disconnected from your parents. But the raw sensations are real, as if you were attached! We still feel your same emotions and same successes that you all feel. We cry with you, we are happy with you, we are proud of you, just the same as if you were part of us.

But there are issues with this bond as well. For example, when we want to move our physically connected arm, we just move it – our brain sends a nerve signal to the muscles, the muscles contract and the arm moves without questioning or talking back. The arm has no brain nor a decision making ability. But now imagine that this unattached limb – AKA: you the child– doesn’t do what we want you to do (according to us, the wise ones, the parents) – It is so frustrating! We can’t control you like we do with the attached arm. Unfortunately, you have your own mind and more often than we would like, you do things not exactly like we would like them done. And we, the parents, can do very little about that. The hurt and pain for us is real, but our control over your actions is extremely limited. So we might get angry with you, or we might even fear for your actions.

And that’s where teaching comes in. As a teacher or as a parent, we can take back that control by showing you our wisdom, teaching you the “right” way.  If we’re good at what we do, we might even convince you that we are more experienced, and that it might be a good idea to at least listen to us.

As your teacher, I feel a similar bond to you as I do to my four biological children. I have spent almost three years with a lot of you, seeing you through the exciting and stressful moments, through the successes and failures, through the happy occasions and the breakups. I saw you as lanky and awkward teenagers flourish into mature, young, beautiful adults. You have grown to be a true part of me, that extra limb I never had. When you failed on a test, I was just as sad as you were. When you triumphed, I was by your side, extremely proud of your achievements. When you go on to solve our world problems, I will take credit for that as well, because you are a part of me.

But now, you have graduated. This is a big moment not only for you, but also for us parents. What do I do now? Do I chop off that limb? No way! How can I? You are MY limb! You are always going to be a part of me. But don’t worry, I believe in you, I believe in your decisions, your actions. Because, yes, you are your own person, with a mind of your own. But I have taught you well, and when you’re in a pickle, and you don’t know what to do, just ask yourself – What Would Gierus Do? I will always feel your pain, your suffering, and your happiness.  But I know that you will make me proud. You are amazing! YOU ARE AMAZING!

Thank you class of 2021, for keeping us young, keeping us on our toes – you are an incredible group of individuals that will be in our hearts forever.