Every parent knows that one of the blessings of parenthood is its capacity for turning a selfish human being who tends to think primarily of himself into someone who is instinctively willing to put another human life above his own. For most people (certainly there are exceptions) parenthood is the supreme character-education course: when we become parents we truly begin to learn what love and sacrifice are all about. The newborn, in his utter dependence and helplessness, is a gift of immeasurable worth, not only because his life has intrinsic value, but because in his very existence he makes better people of his parents. We are more human, more moral, more fully developed creatures because of the manner in which we were designed to procreate and rear our young. Unlike the majority of the animal kingdom, in which offspring need their parents for only a short time (if at all), human beings require their parents’ care for a good one-fourth to one-fifth of our lifetimes. During those 18 or so years that parents directly oversee and guide their children’s lives, the parents benefit as much as the children, by virtue of being so deeply needed by one who is weaker.
As we age the same thing happens again, but in reverse. The children who were once cared for become the ones who care for their parents. And as they do so, they get another chance to grow in compassion, responsibility, care, and selflessness.