*Disclaimer: when I started this blog post, I was in a bitchy, pissed off, and disgusted mood. I’d been watching too much “news” with their primary focus on too many privileged college aged people making asses and nuisances of themselves “protesting” things they knew little to nothing about. My contempt, annoyance and disgust was channeled into this blog, and directed at a very specific type of parenting and subsequent resulting children. It by no means is the sentiment I feel towards all young people. As a whole, they are no more or less doomed than what our parents thought our generation was, or the ones before us. So, having gotten that disclaimer out of the way, on with it…
Dear Twenty-Something (and Something-teen): I am sorry. And I mean that sincerely. I am sorry, that we, your parents, society as a whole; have mislead and misguided you. We truly did so with the best of intentions. You see, we were so certain that our parents did it wrong, and we would do it better, this thing called parenting. So, we read books, listened to experts; psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists and the like, and we absorbed everything they said:
“Never spank your child”, they said. You’ll damage their self esteem! They’ll grow up to be abusive! They’ll (gasp) hate you forever!
“Don’t say ‘no’ to your child.” Saying ‘no’ is negative! They’ll tune it out eventually, and besides, you may hurt their feelings! Instead; redirect them, give them alternate choices!
“Don’t criticize your child!” You’ll cause them self doubt and insecurity!
Oh, and above all else, always, always validate their self worth. This can be done by ignoring negative behavior and reward positive behavior with praise, praise, and more praise! Let’s not forget that “everyone’s a winner!” while we’re at it, and that everyone gets a reward for just showing up.
Now, in theory, and on paper that all sounds so nice, so sweet. I mean, my parents spanked me, told me no, and even let me know if my efforts were sub par, and it sucked! I got picked last for teams, or not at all. I lost at games. My grades were barely average, so I never received any awards or commendations, not even for attendance. That sucked, too!! And while we’re at it- I was awkward and quirky, didn’t quite fit anywhere, and somewhat introverted. In today’s times that makes for someone who’s likely to go on a killing rampage. However, back then, I was just a kid, just going through a phase, and it was just life, so suck it up, buttercup. And I did, we all did, actually. And, yup: we survived. We survived with battle scars and memories-both cringeworthy and great, but survived nonetheless. I’ll even go so far as to say, we thrived.
We learned to work harder, if we wanted something. We learned life isn’t always fair. We discovered we weren’t the best at everything, we wouldn’t always win, and if we acted like a pint sized jerk, we’d get treated to a full size consequence, one that usually meant a hurtin’ backside. We played outside til the street lamps came on, and ran home by the third time our mothers shouted our names out into the dusk, because if she had to call you a fourth time, there’d be hell to pay for sure.
We didn’t have the violent video games you have now, but we still knew a little about killing and death- Wiley Coyote was forever falling off cliffs and getting anvils dropped on his head with his foiled attempts at killing the Road Runner. Yosemite Sam fired off his guns left and right. Yet, it never crossed our minds to try any of it. Our parents would’ve kicked our asses if we tried anything so stupid. Oh, and they’d have told us we were acting stupid, too. Sure, even then Heroes wore capes and masks, but they wore badges, helmets, and fire hats, too. We knew respect, reverence, and our place in the world.
But, back to you, Twenty-Something (and Something-teen) and my apology to you. As it so happens with just about everything, we go overboard. We forget all about that magical mystical thing called balance. We, as a society, as the next generation ourselves at the time, forgot all about balance when we brought home all of you beautiful bundles of joy. All we knew was that we wanted to take you home, and love you, and give you everything (we thought) we didn’t have. We were going to do it right. So when you screamed in the grocery store, we understood that you were just “expressing your feelings” and should let you, so we didn’t sling you over our shoulder (after giving you something to really cry about) and walk out the door. When you took a toy away from your playmate, we suggested that you just ‘play with the toy together, wouldn’t that be so nice’, instead of telling you to give it back, now. Musical chairs went from last one sitting, to ‘everyone fit on the chair together!’ When you refused to listen, we tried reasoning with you, and explaining how your behavior made us feel, instead of telling you: Do It Now, and Because I Said So. We let you be the boss of yourself, after all, only you can know when you’re tired/hungry or what outfit you should dress in. Tiara and cowboy boots for your Aunts funeral? Sure! Your feelings are important! You are the most special person ever! You’re the greatest! These have been the messages we’ve been giving you. Nice, right?
Well, here’s what we forgot to tell you, along side that:
Of course, you are important. But so are all of the millions of other people in the world.
Yes, you are special. To me, us- your family, and friends, and to that someday someone who fills your heart and head with love, sweet love. But- and here’s the most crucial part- you are no more special than anyone else. Everyone is special to someone. Everyone.
You are great. You may even be the greatest at something, time will tell, and only if you put in the effort and work to be so. Your greatness in my eyes is equal to the greatness of someone else in another’s eyes. You are not great at everything, and some things you will truly be lousy at.
Those are the things I can tell you nicely, but here’s something that cannot be sugar coated. I know I risk damaging your self esteem, but its time someone told you:
Your opinions? Not nearly as important a you think they are. They’re half baked. And that is giving you more credit than merited. Again, though: it’s not your fault, because we raised you to believe that your opinions, at Twenty-Something and Something-teen, hold infinite value and weight. But the truth is, you don’t have a fraction of the life experience to give a thought-out opinion on anything other than your own immediate and personal life. Unless you are Malala Yousafzai, or someone of her immense character, life experience, and greatness, please- just: stop.
Yet, again: I apologize, our bad. As a whole, we’ve raised you to be self absorbed, because we made you the center of our universe. It’s only natural for you to think that you actually are. We made you lazy and dependant, because we gave you everything. The shiniest, the trendiest, the bestest, of: everything. Why? Because you wanted it. You needed it. All your friends had it. And we could not allow for you to feel disappointed for One. Single. Second!! We kept you attached to our apron strings right up until college. Call or text me with every move you make. And don’t forget! (But even if you do, we have GPS tracking, so we can check on you!) Don’t you worry, we won’t let you make a single mistake! Oh, but if you do… well, it couldn’t have been your fault, after all my child would never… You get the idea, I’m sure.
So the kicker is: We, society, are so pissed off and disgusted with you, our Twenty-Something’s (and Something-teens). Appalled. Asking ourselves, what will become of us, with you in charge someday?! Pointing fingers, wondering what the hell is wrong with ‘you kids’. And you guys are probably saying a big fat F***you to us, rightfully so. You didn’t create this, we did. However, you can fix it, fix it all.
When you inevitably say that there’s no way you’d raise your kids the way we have raised you, you are going to do it better, I say: yes! Please do! Say it, and then do it with more temperance, more knowledge, than we did. Take from the good we did, not just the bad.
From the day you bring home your own beautiful bundle, to the day you die: shower them with all the love and tenderness you naturally feel, tell them they are the sweetest thing in your universe, praise them, encourage them, use kind words with them. Yes, all of that and more. But: Remember that word I used a few paragraphs past? Balance. If there is one word in the history of language that I could force into each and every young brain, it would be: balance.
When it’s your turn to raise the next generation of tiny humans:
Find the balance between compassion and firmness.
Between worthy praise and over indulgence.
Compassion, and coddling.
Be firm, be funny.
Teach them sarcasm, humility, grace, mindfulness and most of all thankfulness.
Tell them when you’re wrong, tell them when they’re wrong.
Dont tell them “not to judge”. It’s unrealistic, and it’s nearly impossible. But do teach them to judge fairly: by content of character, by actions, by instinct and intuition.
Teach them to trust, not blindly, but rightly. Trust in those who’ve proven their interests are pure.
Teach them that walking away, and quitting are not the same.
Teach them how to be, by being who you hope they’ll become.
And did I mention: Balance? Find the space in between, I know you can do it.
So, we’ve come to the end of what may seem like a back handed apology. No way around it, it half is. I apologize for that, too. And truthfully? There’s no real “formula” for parenting. Some of the crappiest people have created the most spectacular people. Some of the most wonderful people have created some real jerks. You could dissect and analyse it forever, and still- it is what it is. But, that doesn’t mean we don’t keep trying to do it: parenting, better.
Lastly, and just so you know: I’m a mom. My girls are (one is, one is almost) grown. They’re really good humans. They are the people I’d hoped they’d be, and I like them as much as I love them. Part upbringing, part genetics, part who they inherently are, part luck. Still, I know that they’re no more perfect than you or I. They have and will have personal struggles and faults and flaws, and things that make them sometimes go bump though life. It’s all okay, because they are learning how to balance, and they a succeeding. Dare I be so brazen as to say that it’s because I tried to be the “the space in between” whenever I could, throughout their lives? Sometimes I was great, sometimes I sucked. There were times when I used my very best Mr. Rogers voice and explained things verrry verrry patiently, and times when I swore ‘God damn it, because I said so’ loud enough for the neighbor to hear. There are things I’d do differently now, if there was a do-over in life, because it would’ve given them a stronger advantage in their journeys. But, I don’t dwell, and I’ve been unabashed and unashamed to tell them -for anything they’ve not liked about my parenting style: “Do it better”.
Do it better, my young friends.