My phone and email are blowing up. Responses of “I totally understand what you are saying,” in reference to the piece I wrote yesterday about needing a vacation from your kids. Most are not necessarily on board with the pot slant- although they could be convinced to toke the smoke if it meant two days free of picky eaters, battling siblings and toddler tantrums.
I keep coming back to this question: Is this hungering need for free time simply the norm for parents of young children, or is it a symptom of a generation that was brought up to believe everything is about them?
Of course all parents fantasize about free time. How can you not? From the time sperm meets egg, your every thought is viewed with a “is this good for my kid” filter. You might blow off the occasional family dinner to have a night out with the girls, but for the most part, your actions are made with the benefit of your children in mind.
Maybe it is my self-centered nature, but I believe Generation X parents are presented with a different brand of problems than our parents or grandparents. Among my peers, most people waited longer than their parents to have children. Statistically, this is true. In 1970, the average age of a new mom was 21. In 2008, it was 25.1.
I actually expected this to be a much higher number. Most of the mothers I know are not only in their thirties, they are in their late thirties. I am thirty nine years old and have two children who are not yet school age.
I bring up this statistic because I believe it speaks to a different mindset. We waited to have children because we wanted time to establish our careers, travel, and become secure financially- which makes sense for raising a family. What that translates to is having years upon years to do exactly what we wanted. We grew accustomed to having our time and money to ourselves and not having to share those things with anyone else.
Even our culture has changed to accommodate the “me me me” mentality. When was the last time you heard an entire album? How many commercials have you watched recently? I remember as a kid begging for a Cabbage Patch doll for Christmas, and my mom explaining that they were sold out everywhere. Now, I would simply go online and Amazon it. Or Craig’s list. Or find a blog that shows me how to DIY it. When was the last time you waited beyond two days shipping for anything?
Gen X grew up being taught we are the center of the universe. As parents, we no longer resemble the Sun.
But are we really so different from our parents? The other night over dinner, Ben asked his mom if she remembered feeling overwhelmed as a new parent. S had Ben and his sister within less than two years of each other, and did not have any family beyond her husband close by to help out. Her response to Ben’s question was “Well, I remember at one point knowing the only movie I had seen that year.” (If you are wondering, it was All The President’s Men.) She said it as a matter of fact, without a hint of resentment. That’s just the way it was, and she accepted it.
Maybe she just didn’t want to tell her own child that at one point, she had sometimes locked herself in the bathroom just to get a few moments of privacy. And that’s really what it comes down to isn’t it? We can deal with not loving the job of parent every second of the day- we just don’t want our kids to know we feel that way.
Part of the reason I waited to have children is because I remember how stressed and tired my own mother seemed. I know she loved and loves me. I know being a mom is what she feels she was put on this Earth to do. But I also remember feeling as a child like her life might be easier if it didn’t have me in it. Irrational child thinking, most likely brought on by some selfish sentiment, but there all the same.
Liam is now four years old. He comprehends a lot. Today, he found a Batman utility belt at the thrift store that was just a little too big to fit him properly. A few hours later, he is wearing the belt and three pairs of pajama pants. I ask why all the pants and he responds that it is to keep his belt up. That’s some high level thinking.
The last thirty minutes before Daddy arrives home from work are always a bit of a tense countdown. Are we going to make it through the day with a lingering memory of all the fun we had? Or are we going to all fall to tears as one boy tattles “he hit me” and I grind my teeth together to stop from shouting “enough!” Whether I keep it together, whether I give way to my anger, they see my reaction and know they are causing it. Does the entire day of reading stories, making obstacle courses and pretending to have light saber battles win out? Or do they end the night thinking how they upset Mommy?
We can’t be perfect. And we shouldn’t be. What happens if every time they grate on nerves I simply swallow it down and paint on a smile? What lesson are they learning there? But I still can’t stop the guilt from rising when I know my frustration has gotten the better of me and they are the recipients of that emotion.
We’ve all heard that phrase “it takes a village.” But the modern village is across state lines, held over Skype and via email. How did our mothers do it? When we drove them to the point of wanting to lock themselves in their rooms and zone out to Dynasty, how did they keep it together and live to tell the tale? How do we ensure our kids see the love and not the annoyance?
Are we a product of our generation or simply another loop in a long chain of parents on the brink?