Parenting: The Nostalgic Haze of Never-Really-Happened Days
This morning I ran across another article jumping all over parents about over-scheduling, helmeting and seat-buckling their children. Already angered by the repetitious message that parents today suck, I decided to throw gas on the fire and read the comment section. Apparently, the best parents are the ones with the shortest memories and empathy-impairment.
Let me tell you a story about the good ole’ days. Yes, I rode my bike, without a helmet, around town from the break of daylight until dinner time. Our family of 6 lived in a 2 bedroom apartment – converted from a commercial office. My stepfather was in and out of work, drinking heavily and arrested occasionally. My mother was drinking just to survive the close proximity of a baby, a toddler and two older children, the oldest of which was me.
Every week, we’d attend the Seventh Day Adventist church service. Surrounded by vegetarians, fire and brimstone sermons and an odd proclivity for footwashing, we’d pretend that there hadn’t been a drunken, late-night, screaming argument the night before at a barbeque. We’d pretend that my stepfather hadn’t threatened to bash our heads in with a two by four. We’d pretend that we hadn’t lain as still and quietly as we could in our beds, quivering mice, hoping that we wouldn’t be noticed.
In today’s terms, I’d have been classified as a high risk child. A shy, introverted awkward girl in an unstable, abusive home environment who wandered through town at all hours. A Safeway shoplifter of gum and candy. A child who longed for adult kindness, who was the sometime recipient of free food, a ride, clothes, a place to stay.
Like vague criticism waved at large, labeled groups, people need to learn how to qualify their statements. And I call bullshit on most nostalgic ruminations. When I was a kid, life was not homemade cookies and bedtime stories. I was scared, nervous and so angry inside that I nearly self-destructed in my twenties.
As for the flag-waving, suburban nostalgia, I learned to hide under my desk in the case of a nuclear bomb. Johnny Gosch disappeared, as did the idea that any kid was ever safe. Some of us were molested by neighborhood friendlies. And corporal punishment taught me that I had to be stronger and meaner and more physical against those smaller than I.
Just because you survived your childhood unscathed, just because you had loving parents, just because you lived in a safe, cozy neighborhood, many of us didn’t. So we are a little more vigilant and conscientious about the lives that have been entrusted to us. We’re supposed to raise decent humans in a world that caters to the cruel, the hyper-sexualized, the gun-brandishing Wild West of this America.
Parents today are expected to beat out advertising, technology and the sexual marketing of and to children. We’re supposed to be better than sugared cereals, stupefying television, an underfunded, disrespected education system, our own crappy inherited parenting skills. On top of that, we’re bombarded by a media saturation of child kidnapping, rape and murder – even if it’s a lower percentage of crime, a safer American than before, it burns into the psyche.
I am a diligent, conscientious parent. I took parenting classes. Read all the books – there’s an endless supply of information about the many ways you can screw up your child. I talked over issues with other parents. I listen to and talk with my child regularly. And STILL, my daughter might meet the wrong boy in the future or god forbid, sit in her elementary classroom with 19 of her peers when someone with an untreated mental illness gets his hands on weapons.
Parenting is hard and it is hard in a way that I had no idea about – the sleeplessness, gross hygiene issues, constant need – I expected these. But I am baffled by a world that is in the throes of self-destruction, yet takes time out from its downward spiral to deride parents – the individuals who are raising the people who just might pull this planet back from the edge.
The life my daughter has today is wonderful. I have no regrets. I have no problem with putting a helmet on her, making her buckle up, sending her off to try a new sport or hobby or instrument. She is whip-smart, kind and a critical thinker. Her home is stable and our expectations clear. I am not sorry for my parenting and I am happy to be a parent.
So save the anecdotes. If you can’t help me do this job, if you aren’t going to help me protect this child, if you are going to gripe about taxes for education and criticize using the barest safety standards, perhaps you should wonder why your perfect childhood didn’t create a more compassionate adult.