There’s an article going around on Facebook recently in which a physician and author tells parents we’re doing it wrong–about how we’re abdicating authority and, as a result, empowering our kids to their detriment. It’s not the first article to go around like this and I’m sure it won’t be the last. It’s not even something I necessarily disagree with, but I’m so, so tired of opening Facebook to see things like this show up in my feed once again.
You know what I want to say?
STOP IT! For the love of God! Please! Stop telling me how wrong I’m getting this whole gig.
As a matter of fact, I KNOW. I know I’m getting things wrong. I get them wrong every single day. I forget a zillion things, I snap needlessly at my children, I let my anxiety leak out onto them, I feed them the wrong foods, I haven’t figured out the right balance of giving them responsibility and taking care of them, I haven’t modeled enough community service…At the end of every day, I’m all too certain that I wasn’t perfect, that I screwed up, and that I want to do better tomorrow.
Here’s the other thing I want to tell them. You got things wrong, too. Sure, it might not have been the same things I get wrong, but no generation of parents has been perfect. Do you know how much Chef Boyardee and Hamburger Helper my parents and friends’ parents served my friends and me? Or that I reached adulthood quite convinced that peas and corn (with an occasional addition of carrots or green beans) were sufficient in the vegetable department? Or how, as part of the “free range generation,” my parents tell me–chagrined and nervously laughing–how they put me, a kindergartener, alone on a city bus in a major metropolitan city? Or how, as a part of the slightly older “freer range generation,” a former boss told me about how his lack of supervision as a child led to him nearly derailing a train. For real.
Or we can go back a bit further. Because of their own parents, my parents and their generation were well into adulthood before words like “depression” and “anxiety” weren’t totally taboo, when counseling and medication and just plain old “getting help” weren’t giant secrets to shield. Their rates of divorce are much higher than that of generations before them or after them. Plain old childhood survival rates weren’t nearly as robust as they are now. “An infant was four times more likely to die in the 1950s than today. A parent then was three times more likely than a modern one to preside at the funeral of a child under the age of 15, and 27 percent more likely to lose an older teen to death.” (source)
Can we just cut out this generational judgment crap?
What I really want to say to the people older than me who criticize my deficient parenting is this…
What I really need is your wisdom, not your critique. You are smart. You’ve been there, done that, and learned a great deal in the process. I need that voice of experience and reason to navigate my current struggles.
I need your encouragement in the things I’m doing right. The only thing more powerful and reinforcing that hearing someone tell me I’m a good parent is hearing it from someone more experienced than me…someone like you. My growth as a parent will come through confidence, not shame. (see…everything written by Brene Brown)
I need you to quit playing on fear to establish your superiority. Yes, you were good parents. But parenting is already a competition between peers. Why does it have to turn into a generational competition, too? I also need you to remember that you had a hand in creating some of the very things you don’t like. Helicopter parenting? That’s a direct evolution from a generation of latch-key kids who needed more of their parents than their parents were able to give. I need you to own your own struggles and the effect they had on me (and you) so I feel like we’re in this together, on the same team, not in competition with each other.
I need you to remember that just like you did when you became a parent, I’m trying to right some of the wrongs my generation experienced in our childhoods. “In each period, families have solved one set of problems only to face a new array of challenges. What works for a family in one economic and cultural setting doesn’t work for a family in another. What’s helpful at one stage of a family’s life may be destructive at the next stage. If there is one lesson to be drawn from the last millennium of family history, it’s that families always have to play “catch-up” with a changing world.” (source) I’m playing catch-up as best I can in this rapidly changing, information-rich society.
Please remember that we–just like you did–are trying really hard. We love our kids just as much as you loved us. We know you made big personal sacrifices to give us the life you gave us, and we appreciate that. Now that we’re parents, we better realize how hard that was, and we love you all the more for it. And we still need you–we need you as grandparents and mentors and friends in our children’s lives, and we need you ourselves. We still need Mom; we still need Dad.
We just don’t need anymore judgment. We’re pretty good at that on our own.
(Note: so not an underhanded dig at my own parents, who I adore and who are my biggest cheerleaders. I wish everyone could have the same kind of support, grace, and encouragement they give me. Even though they sent me on that city bus. 😉 Just in case anyone wonders!)