These are challenging times for parents. In our own lifespan we’ve known or been around three different types of parenting challenges.
For our grandparents, the challenges were of the most basic kind: getting enough to eat and trying to keep children alive. My grandparents lost one child at birth, at a time when nearly all births were home-births, and came close to losing my mother to the malaria that was rampant at that time in Florida.
My mother’s generation had it much easier on the physical level, but by then the social fabric was beginning to unravel. She had to deal with things such as teenage rebellion (mine!) and desegregation of schools, leading to clashes between white and black kids in schools — things that were unthinkable when she was growing up.
Our own kids came of age when drugs were hitting schools hard, so they had to learn to deal with those kinds of influences as well as divorce, changing schools frequently, and other things Katie and I never had to face. Speaking from (sometimes painful) personal experience, we can tell you that creating conscious relationships with children is one of the most challenging and satisfying things in the world.
When parenting is going well, it has the richest pride and joy imaginable. It’s challenging for many reasons, but here are two of the most important: 1) There’s little if any training for parenting before you get into it (unlike parenting, getting a driver’s license requires weeks of study, practice and testing); and 2) every stage your child goes through brings up unresolved issues from that stage in your own development.
When my daughter was going through her ‘Terrible Two’s’ stage, when children practice saying ‘NO’ to just about everything, I was locked in a struggle with her about whether she had to eat the untouched string beans on her plate. My position, which seemed entirely reasonable to me, was that she should eat some of the beans before getting any of the dessert she wanted. She, on the other hand, was arguing forcefully for the anti-bean position. Her view was basically DESSERT NOW, NO BEANS EVER!
As our dialogue was escalating, I looked over at my mother for support. Instead, I saw a smile of satisfaction on her face. “What are you smiling about?” I asked. Mom said, “You have no idea how much pleasure I’m getting from seeing you on the receiving end of this sort of thing. It seems like only a few years ago that it was you sitting there refusing to eat your beans!” Suddenly I had a realization — I couldn’t get my daughter to eat her beans because I had never quite come to terms with having to eat mine!
We survived, and are now getting a few satisfying chuckles out of seeing son Chris on the receiving end of some of these kinds of dialogues with daughters Elsie and Imogen. He’s about the greatest dad we’ve ever seen, though. (And in our humble opinion, the girls are two of the finest human beings ever to grace this planet!)
Here’s a tip for any of you who are in some stage of the parenting process: If you feel frustrated about a stage your kids are going through, take a moment to tune in to how you handled that stage when you were going through it. At the very least, it will give you a way to resonate with what your children are going through. At best, you may learn to appreciate the whole parenting process as an opportunity to learn more about the big lessons of living.