I recently finished reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. It’s a harrowing, heartbreaking novel about four male friends living in New York. Described in this review as “dark and traumatic” and “as bleak and addictive as they come”, I wouldn’t call it a light read! But it’s definitely a page-turner.
The novel centres around Jude, a man who survived an unfathomably traumatic childhood and is trying to live a ‘normal’ life (whatever that looks like). Jude is adored by his friends, despite revealing very little about himself or his past. The novel is ultimately about friendship, but it’s also about family – it explores the relationship between grown children and their parents.
Jude has no idea who his parents are and (spoiler alert) he is eventually adopted as an adult by his mentor and his mentor’s wife. Although the adoption is somewhat unconventional (Jude is 30 when it happens), it’s clear that being someone’s son fills a deep void in his life – and it’s beautiful to read as he allows himself to be loved by his new parents, even as an adult. No, especially as an adult.
With his traumatic past and deep-set anxiety, Jude is a difficult person to nurture – it’s safe to say he carries a lot of baggage. But his new parents persevere and offer unconditional love as they emotionally support Jude and help him heal.
All that aside, the reason I’m writing about this book is because of a short quote that struck a chord. In the novel, Jude’s adoptive father wrote this description of parenting in a letter – and the words have stayed with me:
“The point of a child is not what you hope he will accomplish in your name but the pleasure he will bring you, whatever form it comes in, even if it is a form that is barely recognizable as pleasure at all – and, more important, the pleasure you will be privileged to bring him.” - Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life
There is so much I love about this quote. I love how it focuses on parenting as an exchange of pleasure – not as a chore or a duty or a legacy, but a relationship that is ultimately about joy. I love that it describes parenting – and bringing your child joy – as a privilege. I love how it is written by a character who is not the child’s ‘natural’ parent (suggesting that it’s the bond that’s important, not the blood). And most of all, I love how it suggests that pleasure is a given – that you will get pleasure from parenting even if it’s hard and heartbreaking at times, and even if sometimes it’s “barely recognizable as pleasure at all”. It suggests that being a parent is one of the deepest joys you will ever experience – because it’s about giving.
I think it’s one of the most beautiful descriptions of parenting that I have come across (in my extremely early days as a parent!) and I hope to hold its sentiment close as I navigate new motherhood and beyond. It inspires me to "chase the joy" in my relationship with Zoey, and cements what I already know to be true: that the smiles and laughs we share each day are what it's all about.
Do you have a favourite quote about parenting that you come back to time and time again? I love how words have the power to guide us through new territory. Books bring me such peace and happiness – even the harrowing ones! I would love to hear your thoughts on A Little Life if you’ve read it, too.