Parenting: The Nostalgic Haze of Never-Really-Happened Days

WARNING: Extreme Defensiveness Aheadcanstockphoto2415989

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.

24 Comments on “Parenting: The Nostalgic Haze of Never-Really-Happened Days

  1. “…perhaps you should wonder why your perfect childhood didn’t create a more compassionate adult.”
    As a non-parent, even I say AMEN.

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    • It’s true – beyond parenting issues, online forums seemed to have pulled back the curtain on many people’s personalities and shown an inherent lack of empathy. I try to remember that these people are not the only representatives for humankind!

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      • I agree with this. I think it’s a combination of being able to comment annonymously and immediately. While I think it’s wonderful that online forums provide a voice to anyone with a computer, I’m sure some commenters post things they’d never say in person and the ease of posting removes any time for a sober second thought.

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    • I am fortunate, in many ways, that I had access to the resources to get some parenting education. Many people struggle without any support. I think, at that point, it really becomes a societal issue, but it is often easier to wax sentimental about the past than look for positive solutions or contributions to the present. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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  2. Please, don’t sugarcoat it, tell us how you ‘really’ feel!

    But I do get what you’re saying. Life back when I was growing up was no bed of roses. People put on the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia and forget what life was really like. And I wonder how many of them really had the idyllic childhood they thought they did?

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    • Ha – I really do try to be thoughtful when I write, but this has been a bur under my saddle for a long time!

      I think even if someone had an idyllic childhood (and the more the better), it would behoove them a bit to realize that their experience is not the standard and that different or new is not automatically worse.

      The ones that really get me are people who say they were smacked around and they “turned out okay”, as if that is enough to justify corporal punishment by all parents. Ach, don’t get me started again…

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    • Thanks, Lisa. I always feel a bit chagrined when I pour a little anger out on the internet. Part of me says that it certainly needs less of that, but I also am tired of these attitudes going unchallenged.

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      • While the internet is overflowing with anger, there is a difference between thoughtful outrage directed at injustice and the meandering rants of those who are angry for anger’s sake. Or worse, the trolls who instigate discord for their own entertainment. You do a good job of remaining thoughtful & mindful of the purpose of your anger.

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    • It isn’t too hard to get riled up by some of the things written online. If one wants to find something to be outraged about, it’s an easy task. I just have to try not to do that too often. There’s lots of people who are pretty damned decent, too.

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  3. Fantastic post. I have much empathy, though I never had children. I couldn’t do that job, not even a little bit. People really do need to learn when to keep their opinions and anecdotes to themselves. Sigh.

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    • I think across the board, we all could do with more empathy. Polarized urban legend thinking has infected every aspect of this society, although it seems the thin veil of anonymity online adds an element of disrespect and incivility. All is not lost – there are plenty of people still left with manners and critical thinking skills.

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  4. Yes, yes, yes, and:

    I’m so sorry, Michelle, that little Michelle had to grow up with most of her childhood stolen away from her, and instead feel scared and sad much of the time.

    What an amazing, strong girl you were to survive that and come out the other side, scathed but still able to be a empathetic, talented, articulate person, and a loving partner and parent.

    The point you made that speaks strongest to me is that most people assume THEIR experience or opinion of a thing must or should be EVERYONE’s.

    Developmentally, is that not how a toddler sees the world?

    Another great post from you.

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    • I am hoping my anger does not arise out of self-pity. Many years of work and mindfulness have made me a relatively happy person today, so relaying childhood woes to make a point feels a little mercenary. However, I know people’s life experiences can be so incredibly different from what is marketed to us and the fables that are passed along by older generations (of which I am rapidly becoming a member).

      The lack of maturity may dim people’s vision, but I suspect it’s a lack of imagination and empathy. The inability to imagine life through the eyes of someone else robs us of color and compassion in our own lives. We end up being guided by fear and prejudice, which, if online forums are any indicator, is quite in abundance.

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  5. Kick butt and take names! This is a great post. My kids are grown now, but holy crap, did I ever make mistakes. What comforts me is the fact that my wife and I tried as hard as we could every day. And like you, I get pissed with sweeping generalizations and folks who think they know everything. Peace, John

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    • I like that you referenced sweeping generalizations, because I’ve been thinking about that a lot in terms of public discourse, as well as in personal interactions. This really is the root of polarization, an easy way to categorize, label and then demonize wide swathes of the population, since imagining variations is not easy thinking.

      I meet so many parents, in the course of volunteering, who want the best for their children. Parenting is much like nutrition – navigating all the advice and information becomes overwhelming and demoralizing. All we can do is learn what we can, see what works and most of all, honor the time we have with each other.

      Have a good week, John and thanks for commenting!

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