After years of parenting, here’s one lesson I can’t seem to learn:
Parenting requires at least one of the individuals involved to not be a child.
Sounds simple. In theory, it is.
The ones at school are the kids.
You’re the parent, if one or more of these conditions are true, you:
- have a job that isn’t at McDonalds;
- pay for everything;
- are the only one that replaces the toilet paper roll, puts the sandwich-maker away and turns lights off;
- watch an inordinate amount of poorly-played junior sports and terribly acted plays; or
- are reading this.
Despite its simplicity, I forget this point all the time.
Here’s an example from 10 minutes ago:
Me: “Who’s dishes are these?”
Child 1 & 2: “Not mine” [in pitch-perfect unison]
Me: “Well, they’re not my dishes. I’m not doing them.”
Child 1 & 2: [Stare intently into their screens, trying to make out they are working on the Theory of Everything rather than playing Candy Crush. Child 1 breaks under the strain and tries to crawl into the device]
Me: “Kids, get in here and do these dishes.”
Child 1 & 2: [Put down their devices heavily, skulk into the kitchen and begin arguing over the ownership of each dirty dish.]
Me: “You’re both impossible. I’ll do the damn dishes.”
The list of parenting fails in this brief exchange is impressive. The result predictable: All concerned are upset, the generation gap widens another inch, and I end up doing the dishes anyway.
The child in me wants to blame the kids. But what kids ever want to do dishes?
It’s the job of the parents – grown up parents (an oxymoron more often than you’d think) – to reconcile the adult need for a salmonella-free kitchen and the child need to avoid any form of work or hygiene.
But that’s easier said than done.
Generation X Parenting: How Hard Can It Be?
Going in, it looks like this:
Kids are little, so you’ll be the boss of them.
They’ll look up to you with adoring eyes, and joyfully absorb every word of wisdom you’ve distilled from life.
Like doe-eyed devotees they’ll accept your dubious beliefs and the world view you’ve sticky-taped together from unconscious biases and fact samples.
You’ll right some of the world’s small but important wrongs (reuse shoppings bags; stop eating carbs).
And you’ll protect them from a host of statistically improbable evils.
Those of you without kids, will be thinking, “Sure, that sounds about right.”
Those of you with kids will be trying to compose themselves, having slid off their chair laughing.
Generation X Parenting Plans
Parenting plans don’t survive first contact with kids.
Kids find weakness like water finds the lowest point. And they’re the ultimate bullshit detector.
Kids hate plans. They’re allergic to logic.
They’re organic to our synthetic, analogue to our digital, random to our reasoned.
So we make it up as we go along, walking the middle path between our parenting ideals and the reality of parenting.
Generation X Parenting
Each generation stumbles onto a few good ideas (Gen X turned away from corporal punishment; emphasised competing rather than winning) and inevitably takes them to the extreme (parenting-by-negotiation; participation awards).
The next generation corrects these extremes and defines parenting in its own way, which of course leads to its own extremes. The circle of parenting.
Generation X reacted to the Baby Boomer’s latchkey parenting with helicopter parenting.
Millennials are now worried that Generation X’s parenting style is ill-preparing kids for adulthood.
But ultimately, while we’re influenced by generational parenting styles, we each create our own way of parenting.
Parenting is Not a Skill, It’s an Odyssey
There is no licence course for raising kids and there’s no qualification like a Bachelor of Parenting. We each educate ourselves as best we can, then fuck it up in our own special way.
We learn, we adapt, we fuck it up some more. Repeat until therapy.
We’re only human.
Kids are human too. They’ll have their own luck (or lack of it), be directed by their own personalities and experiences, be influenced by other kids and be guided by other adults. None of which we control.
I’m convinced that most of the important lessons our kids will learn, will not be from our teachings, but from our behaviour. Monkey see, monkey do. Not, monkey get told what to do and monkey astutely do it.
One last observation I’ve gleaned from my comically experiential Generation X Parenting: Just as our kids learn from us (when we’re not teaching them), we learn from them. My kids are teaching me how to be patient, caring, compromising and forgiving. In other words, how to be a parent.