It’s been quite some time since I was the mother of elementary and middle school age children. I remember those days as being some of the very best years of my life. I love little babies and toddlers are quite cute but parenting them is extremely exhausting. Ten and twelve year olds on the other hand are pretty much at the perfect time of life. They mostly fend for themselves and they are still innocent enough that they are loads of fun. Still, being responsible for children no matter how old is always very hard work, a full time job. It’s little wonder that nature gave that task to young and energetic adults.
I’ve been watching three of my grandchildren for a few days while their mom and dad are out of town. They are incredibly good kids with old fashioned manners and a set of routines that they follow without question. I haven’t had to worry about feeding the dogs, overseeing homework or even getting them to bed at a decent hour. They are quite independent and understand what their daily responsibilities are. Nonetheless, it is very different to suddenly be back in a role that I haven’t had to play for so long. It’s much like roller skating or riding a bicycle and I have gotten back into the groove without much fanfare but I suspect that I am only doing well because my daughter and son-in-law have already laid such a strong foundation with their children. I am actually in awe of how respectful and obedient my grandkids are while still having their own distinct personalities and independent ways of thinking.
Parenting is a complex undertaking. At any given moment on any given day there are hundreds of moving parts that must be addressed. The demands increase exponentially with each added child. As a society we too often underestimate the value of dedication required to raise a human being from infancy to adulthood. At each developmental stage there are new challenges that require patience, wisdom and boundless love. The life of parents is mostly determined by the needs of the children. Social occasions and friendships revolve around music lessons, athletic events, studying, school functions and other such demands. The average parent has a calendar filled with appointments which require a group effort to get everything done. It can be exhausting and the most moms and dads are hopelessly sleep deprived.
Sometimes it is not until things calm down and the children are grown and out of the house that parents realize just how wonderful all of those crazy moments were. It’s certainly nice to be able to determine the course of a day without having to consider everyone else’s desires but there is also something a bit sad when the noise is gone and the rushing from ballgames to dance lessons is only a memory. Getting an opportunity to be a weekend parent again brings all of the wonderful times back to life. Somehow the mind forgets about the painful aspects of growing up children and holds on for dear life to those special shared times that weren’t necessarily spectacular but were oh so wonderful in quiet unassuming ways.
Inside families there is laughter over silly things that nobody else would ever understand, private jokes that cause everyone to giggle. There are solemn moments when difficult discussions sometimes cause tears and even a bit of pain. There are outings that on the surface don’t amount to much but over time become cherished remembrances of togetherness. Even amongst rivalries there is a bond which is rarely broken. Members of a family know and honor each other in ways that are impossible even with great friends. There is an unspoken loyalty and love that follows each of the participants through both time and distance. Still, everyone remembers their upbringing together just a bit differently based on unique points of view. We see and hear the same things inside our families but we interpret them in our own ways. When there is shared love, the individual truths create a rich tapestry of family history.
I’ve been thinking this weekend about the moms and dads that I knew when I was still a child. There were my own and those of my cousins and friends. Each home was unique but in the long run virtually everyone that I knew back then has turned out to be an upstanding individual. My peers in turn raised their own children and despite bumps in the road here and there, the “kids” are wonderful people as well. Now many of them are bringing up a whole new generation and doing an even better job than those of us who came before them.
There is much disagreement these days over how the world is progressing. I certainly see dangers and evil but I suspect that those elements have always been there in one way or another. We just hear more about problems because of all of the media outlets that surround us. We worry about our youth but I find them to be quite thoughtful and even profound in their hopes and dreams. Parents of today are doing a yeoman’s job and the kids are doing just fine. We have learned so much about how to develop strong and caring adults and I see evidence of lots of heavy lifting from mothers and fathers in this regard.
Our society has slowly evolved into thinking that makes it more and more possible for children to grow up to realize their potential. Girls see moms who are equal partners with the dads. Boys see fathers who share the duties and display gentleness just like their mothers. Families take time to discuss issues openly and honestly. Children are encouraged to take risks and to understand that failure often leads to the greatest success. We have learned so much about the psychology of our humanity and parents are inspiring their children in ways that were unheard of not that long ago. We really are getting better and better at the most important task that we will ever have, raising our young.
There was a time in the not so distant past when my grandparents came from huge families numbering in double digits. Many of their siblings died at birth or as children. Just keeping everyone fed and clothed took the bulk of energy for my great grandparents. They had little time and few resources for entertaining their kids. Talents often went unnoticed as the main tasks involved just keeping everyone afloat. It was not until my grandparents had their children that thoughts of education and enrichment came to pass. They had the luxury of reading and information that had been denied their own parents. Their homes featured electricity, running water, phones and indoor plumbing even though they were thought to be poor. They listened to the radio and went to movies. They owned cars that took them on little trips about town.
When my parents came along the world was filled with modern conveniences about which my ancestors had never even dreamed. The acceleration of inventiveness continued unabated when Mike and I were raising our own girls. We brought computers into our home when they were still dependent on tape decks and later floppy disks. Now the whole world is at the fingertips of youth in their own homes, leaving more time to do other things.
I am in awe of parents. They are the bedrock of all societies. They selflessly set aside huge chunks of their lives to bring us the future generations who will one day be called upon to lead us. From my perspective they are doing a grand job. I suppose that instead of criticizing them as it seems so popular to do these days we should instead do whatever we can to support them. It’s good every once in awhile to step back and remember just how tough it is to be a mom or a dad.