Our Children: Are They Really Better Off?

These days, I find myself running interference for any of my children at any given point.  Although the bickering is sometimes nonstop, I wouldn’t trade the healthiness in their voices, or the lilt in their laughter, and certainly not their successful attempts at humoring each other, for anything. Heck, they make me laugh!  Okay, maybe I would trade an evening of all that “noise” for a quiet day in a shady spot on the beach, under the Antiguan sun, with a favorite book, and a tall rum punch. Nice, eh? For now, whatever time I can steal will have to do.

Though I’d rather have peace and quiet when the bewitching hours roll around on a weekday (take your pick between 4:00 and 9:00 pm), I find myself making a conscientious effort to stop myself from corralling them with a lasso. It takes every fiber of me to restrain myself when I witness crayons, toys, paper, and more paper, spread across the kitchen table, yet again! Don’t mention the spills or half-eaten plates of food on the table.

As I seek to create some semblance of order, I bark orders at my little ones to take better care of their things, and encourage them to think of those less fortunate children who would be well pleased with just half of the meal that they’re having tonight.  I’m sure that this wouldn’t be the first time you’ve heard the “You Guys Have So Much More Than We Did” refrain. How many lectures are sufficient to demonstrate that our children are more blessed than us, and certainly more than some of their peers in other regions and countries worldwide? But are they really?

While I don’t romanticize my childhood, I’m sure that most would agree with me that life was much simpler then. I now recall that in my first home as I knew it – my grandparents’ home – seldom a child could be found playing inside during the daytime hours. As far as my granny was concerned, inside was for sleeping, cooking, and doing constructive things like sewing, or listening to an occasional radio program (we had no TV).  In my tropical climate, the sun danced right outside the window, and beckoned us outdoors year-round.  We played outside mostly, in the yard, in front of, and behind the house, in spaces marking the separation between our home and that of our neighbors. With the exception of my grandmother being in the kitchen for preparing meals, the house was quiet while we did things that children did – discovered, explored, experimented, made believe, played tag, jumped rope, and invented new uses for common, but obscure items that we would find throughout the course of the day. We convened for dinner, and cleared out when it was over. Perhaps there wasn’t enough conversation? (That’s an entirely separate topic.)

I sometimes angst about whether I am raising my children up right. All I got was What to Expect When You’re Expecting, but no amount of prenatal visits could prepare me for this.  Everything else was useless! When it comes to the most difficult job of raising children, it isn’t so much about winning the “Parent of the Year” award, but about building a legacy for your children, and the children of the communities in which you live, and creating a more harmonious place in which we can all live more peacefully.

Are we teaching our children: resourcefulness – how to find what they need, and use what they already have to create their own solutions; responsibility – for creating and shaping their own outcomes; restraint – in exercising self control and desires that override their own moral compass; and lastly, respect – for themselves, those they claim to love, their elders, their community, and their world?

I believe that these were, and still are the fundamentals. If we continue to indulge our children, with the goal of surpassing our own childhood, or giving them what we believe we didn’t have, I hope that we first acknowledge what we did have, and build our legacy from there. We can deal with what was amiss, awry, or absent for the sake of healing and moving forward; however, too long a pause at that layover will keep us stuck on stupid, furthermore inhibiting our ability to effectively parent. We cannot be successful in creating a new reality for our children without referring to the gemstones of our own childhood, because whether we like it or not, they inform our own instinctive nature as parents.

Lest we forget, our children will certainly not be better off. When all else is stripped away – the material possessions, and all effects of their personal and professional accomplishments – will you be proud of what remains at the core?  Will you be able to say that you did a better job, or as good a job, of raising children, that will in turn, become more well-adjusted, balanced, grounded, vocal, and compassionate?  And, will your children be better off for the experience?

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