We need to coin a new word for the emotion of watching your children parent. One part sympathy, one part pride, and okay, a dash of schadenfreude. But whatever it is, I am here for it. Pass the popcorn.
My kids and their spouses are better parents than their dad, and I were. I’ll say it. It’s not that we didn’t work at it, but we were young and dumb and fresh-out-of-college poor. My kids had amateurs for parents. We were one hundred percent winging it.
My main “resource” was a Dr. Know-it-all book that was light on helpful information and heavy on condescending heartiness. It’s okay, little mama! Teething happens! Colic happens! Relax! (super helpful at 3:00 a.m. with a screaming baby on your shoulder).
There were no mom blogs or internet communities; WebMD was not yet a glimmer in Jeff Arnold’s eye. Other than the occasional panicked long-distance call to Grandma, we were alone. The fact that my kids lived to be parents is a minor miracle.
The author, with her eight grandchildren. (Kirsten Macdissi)
By contrast, my kids are reasonably confident parents. They are older than we were. They’ve established their careers and are used to troubleshooting in other arenas. They are also used to having a plethora of information at their fingertips.
“Did you know that when a toddler throws a tantrum, his frontal cortex is completely disengaged?” my daughter asked me recently. I did not, although two decades of child-rearing and classroom teaching of adolescents have led me to suspect that brains stay immature for much longer than one might think.
I don’t think having that knowledge makes it much easier when your tiny tot has a total meltdown. When it has happened in my presence, I have a weird, slightly out-of-body feeling of deja-vu. There’s the young dad/mom dealing with a Situation, and the little person who looks so much like they did at that same age…it’s a little bit funny, I’m not going to lie, but at the same time, I’m also having flashbacks of that parent’s momentary demonic possession in the middle of Target when he was a toddler. Sorry, kids. Parenting is not easy. Sending you the Katniss salute.
I no longer have to deal, to do the thing, because it’s not my job anymore. It was indeed the toughest job I ever loved, but I’m mostly retired from active duty. I’m in the reserves, usually in the spoiling division. My kids are the ones on the front lines now.
They don’t do things the way we did. They couldn’t, even if they wanted to, which I’m sure they don’t. The eighties/nineties were a primitive, Wild West era of no smartphones (hard to believe that once upon a time, phones were just…phones) when social media meant the local paper and the nightly news. We were homesteading in the woods, using our substandard car seats and microwaving things in plastic like barbarians.
They are kind about those years and not critical — at least to my face, which is all I ask —about how they were raised. Now that we’re past the age of teen and young adult antler-rattling, I feel I’ve achieved a certain matriarchal status. “You had four of us, Mom—how on earth did you do it?” they say, shaking their heads.
Yes, I feel some karmic satisfaction in hearing that. They finally appreciate that keeping tiny humans alive and well is not always a stroll in the park. But I also feel genuine sympathy for the sleep-deprived nights, the hectic days spent putting out one fire after another, with seldom a moment to think a complete thought. Sometimes it’s just plain hard, and that’s a fact.
But there is also a lot of joy in parenting, and I think they have discovered that, too. I watch my son dance to “Let It Go” again with his little girl, his face tender. I watch my daughter cradle her heavy-eyed little boy, singing softly. I see the look of joy on my grandchildren’s faces when they see Mom or Dad and run toward them, arms open like wings. You are their person now, I want to tell my kids. I want to say to them this moment doesn’t last forever. But I think they already know. Maybe their dad and I did a few things right.
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