Being a parent is my vocation. I am not necessarily good at it, merely called to it. It involves constant decision making, a mountain of patience, and an undying attitude of humility; humility in the sense that often there seems to be little if any gratification for doing the right thing for Ann, my 18-month-old daughter. Often there appears to be no "right thing."
As the life of a parent comes together with that of a child, one nurtures, feeds, clothes, teaches, and plans activities for the other. The child gives some direction in these matters, but the bottom line is that parents have power over children, and children naturally trust us with that power. Giving up that power--in adjusting schedule, keeping promises, or allowing Ann to say "In a little while I'll come to get my diaper changed"--has become one of my main concerns in learning to parent.
The most difficult lesson for me has been learning to relinquish the power to stop Ann's cry, allowing her the time and space to work out her own bit of darkness. To comfort her in the rocking chair until she falls asleep and then to lay her quietly in her crib would be much easier. For months my wife, Ginny, and I tried to do just that, until Ann began to wake up each time we laid her down. She would scream until she was picked up and nestled against one of us: content, secure, and soon asleep.
After talking with friends and our doctor, we decided to try letting Ann cry herself to sleep. Forty-five minutes was chosen as the ritual time of agony for us and for her. If at the end of that time she was still crying, one of us would go comfort her.