Enough politics brothers and sisters. Let’s talk about something a little more important today. I feel like preachin’ on parenting and paradox. Ooooh, alliteration, just like a real televangelist…
A wise associate of mine once pointed out that parenting is the ultimate emotional paradox: The better one does it the more the outcome is likely to hurt. You love your children deeply and want them in your life but good parents help their children become independent and autonomous. In other words you’re planning to make yourself obsolete from the thing you care about most. If I parent really well this small beloved child won’t need me at all. Hooray?
Yes hooray, but it still kind of sucks. Thinking about it recently I’ve decided that it’s probably even worse than that. I think good parenting means that you can’t possibly hope to UNDERSTAND your own child. This line of thought started with a Chris Rock joke. He quipped that he didn’t get his kids because they’re rich and he doesn’t know what it’s like to be spoiled and wealthy kid. Growing up poor he didn’t even KNOW a rich kid. Okay, kind of funny, but really really smart. He’s been financially successful so his children are going to have resources and opportunities, attitudes and confidences that he literally can’t imagine. I bet this phenomenon applies to all sorts of things.
Many of us grow up in less than ideal situations. Angry, stupid or abusive parents can combine with the external forces of peer pressure or poverty to make a deeply toxic environment. The fact is that childhood SUCKS for a lot of people and if that’s your experience you have two basic choices; deal with the crap you were given or pass it on to your kids. It’s not exactly news that a lot of abused or repressed kids go on to do the same things to their progeny. In that case the parent and child can both relate to each other on equal ground. But what about those people that make the harder choice and decide that the abuse is going to stop with them?
In these pages I’ve been pretty honest about the mild physical and ugly emotional abuse that filled my formative years. No need to dwell on the particulars, let’s just say I reached adulthood with a full escort of demons. I’ve spent much of my life trying, to the best of my ability, to exorcise as man of them as possible. I’d like to think that I’ve had some success (at the very least I’m not an alcoholic). I know that I’ve managed to keep many of the worst of the abuses out of my children’s life. They grew up better than I did. Of course that’s a good thing, but…
My children are more confident, calmer, and probably smarter than I will ever be. Their improved childhood means that I can’t identify with them at all, and vice versa. They have no idea what’s like to carry some of the demons in my life and I have no idea what it’s like to face life without them. That’s a good thing though it does limit our ability to understand each other.
I’m blessed with many wonderful friends both old and new. One of the ways we’re bonded is through shared experiences. We’re drawn to each other because something in our pasts resonate. In other words we’ve all fought, and continue to fight, some similar demons. If I met my children as adults I might not gravitate towards them, or them to me. Their emotional health and my scars wouldn’t be drawn together as naturally. They live in a better world. I helped move them there, but I can never go myself.
Well, that got a little maudlin. Sorry about that. None the less the point is a valid one. If you deal with the shit you were given and parent with some compassion and patience than your children will have more skills and confidence than you do. If that gap turns out to be rather large it’s going to mean that you won’t really be able to understand each other on many levels. Your experiences will just be too different. And that’s the very fucking definition of bittersweet.
I hope that I will always be an important part of my children’s life. I also pray that they won’t ever need me. That’s the nature of the original parenting paradox. This new paradox means that we’re going to have to work a little harder and with more awareness to understand each other even though we’re likely to remain mystified by the each other’s motivations. My friend Speedy used to have a bumper sticker on his truck that read ‘Guns don’t kill people, bad parenting kills people’. A good point, but want does good parenting do? It brings joy and pain in equal measure. It creates generations that can’t possibly relate to the pain and struggles of their predecessors. It brings balance.
So go forth brothers and sisters and slay those demons. Keep them from your child’s back. Be the one that does the work and ends the abuse. Understand that in doing so you’re creating a better world, but one that you might not get to appreciate or even understand. Joy and pain, sacrifice and acceptance. I, for one, wouldn’t have it any other way. Saor Alba, Vaya con Dios and Viva la Revolucion.