I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m jealous of my boys. No, it’s not because they got to enjoy a lifestyle and opportunities that I didn’t enjoy during my deprived childhood (you know, I walked to school barefoot in the snow, yada yada). I had a fairly privileged childhood as well, never having to worry about my next meal, a warm, dry house, or even college loans.
Rather, I just look at them and marvel at how together they are.
Me at their age: gawky, awkward, fearful, mousy, demanding, self-critical, insecure, academically and psychologically myopic, unsure, squabbling with my sister. I was too timid to talk to most people and mostly moved through life trying to avoid notice. I intentionally chose the largest university in the state (50,000 students) so I could hide in the auditorium. Fortunately, I managed to have a pretty good time and got a good education, despite being my own worst enemy. Not a total loss by any means but it wasn’t pretty either.
Them (cumulatively): confident, handsome, self-assured, talented, engaging, interesting, funny, self-aware, poised, kind, courteous, popular, leaders. They even get along with each other. Like each other. Help each other. So much more evolved than I was at that age.
By the time I had the self-knowledge and confidence they are showing now, I was late into my 30’s, even 40’s. Sometimes I wonder if I was that put together in my teens, where would I be now…?
But all that is irrelevant. That ship has long ago sailed, and it is not at all constructive to speculate in that manner. Indeed, I had to struggle for years to find my place in the world and figure out who I was. I don’t actually regret it because those experiences and those struggles put me on the path to who I am today. Feeling so uncomfortable was the best incentive for me to figure it out and grow up.
“You cannot dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge yourself one” – James A. Froude
A little adversity* can be a good thing for young people. I’ve known some people whose childhood was as smooth as silk. They were beloved, nurtured, spoiled a little (or a lot), helped when needed, had breakfast and a bag lunch prepared for them each day, had a parent at every school event, had everything they ever wanted without having to save a dime. I believe modern parents frequently strive to provide for their children a perfect childhood, but I’m not sure that’s a good idea. The adults I know with easy childhoods did not learn resilience at a young age and had few opportunities for self-discovery and growth. They entered life being unable to care for themselves, solve problems for themselves, or believing their role was to be taken care of, not to take care of others. They were not given the incentive to forge themselves deliberately into a character until much later after their habits were firmly in place.
So even though I’m somewhat jealous, I am even prouder of the young men they have become despite a privileged upbringing. Our parents worked hard for the American dream and to provide us with all the advantages, especially a great education and resulting careers. Their dream was that we would be more successful than they were, and we are. While balancing two careers and two babies, however, we quickly realized that the financial and professional success was fantastic – but what really mattered was raising a happy and healthy family. So, while we have saved all their lives for their educations too, our mission has more importantly been to give them a healthier emotional and psychological start to their lives. All the money in the world will not make them happy, but the ability to love and forgive both yourself and others, and commit to a journey of personal growth is an excellent down payment on that happiness.
I always say that childrearing is one big experiment: You don’t get the report card until they go into therapy when they’re 30 and you find out how much you screwed them up. So the jury is still out as to whether we were successful in our quest. But at least I know we did our best for them, and hopeful that they will understand and forgive our sincere, though thoroughly imperfect parenting. If we’ve successfully taught them to forgive themselves and others, they will.
Someday they’ll have their own parenting journey. What will be their parenting legacy? What will they prioritize for their children? In what way do they want their children to do better than they did? Grandma will be standing by to help. Hopefully by then I’ll have developed the wisdom and self-control to keep my opinions to myself.
*Previous blogs on adversity – Conflict, Damned if You Do, Damned if You Don’t, The Joy of Loss, Blessings of a Dysfunctional Marriage, A Defining Moment: Discovering the Hidden Gifts in Chronic Pain and Illness