Monday, July 09, 2007

Where My Parents Failed Me

Growing up, I enjoyed a relatively good childhood. We were not rich, but were not poor either. My parents were not tyrannical authoritarians. We had fun. I remember having what others around us might have called intellectual discussions at the dinner table. Oh, and the food on the table was cooked from scratch by my stay-at-home-feminist mother. Yes, you heard that right. One of her life goals was to get the world to see the value of raising children and to actually put their money where their values were. To have mothering count in the GNP. But I digress. This is not about my parents successes - I AM a stay at home mother who knows her worth, even if I am not monetarily compensated - but their failure. One I am coming to terms with now and figuring out how not to pass it on to my children.

My parents made some life choices that went against the mainstream. As I mentioned, my mother did not work in an age where more and more children were being raised by daycare workers and TV during the latchkey after school hours. Whenever we could, we grew our own food and always cooked from scratch while our friends in school had twinkies in their lunchboxes and had tasted Hamburger Helper, sometimes more than once a week. Shopping involved getting only exactly what you needed and only if it was on sale. No hundred dollar pairs of Jordache jeans for me. My polos were the kind that did NOT have the right number of buttons (ten), or even a cute little alligator or pony embroidered on them. Our house was filled with lots of cool art supplies, books, interesting curiosities, most acquired from yard sales and the Salvation Army, or the sale bin at least. I often wondered how the family down the road who lived in a trailer (white trash) could afford to have a satellite dish and three new ATVs while we only had four tv stations, on a good day, and barely a bike for each of us, most of which were handed down. It was obvious my dad made more money, but I never understood the difference in lifestyle.

And there is the failure. Where I even noticed our differences, I rarely understood the reasoning behind them. Oh, sure, the dinner conversations touched on all matter of topics of interest to the environment, the evils of blind faith in institutions like religion and government, the need to give back and be grateful for what you have. But, still, I grew up to join the military despite my almost-had-to-move-to-Canada-to-avoid-the-war father. I fell into the trap of the mainstream culture, valuing entertainment and stuff over the lives, human and otherwise, that were sacrificed in the production of those diversions (If you did not read the article I posted below, read it now).

I have been able to make choices I know now my parents would never support because they failed to impress upon me the reasons they would not support them. Maybe they did not know what I know now, and they did not have such gravely important reasons. Maybe they believed more deeply in letting people be to figure things out on their own, than they did in being sure we understood what they understood, whatever the cost. Maybe they tried and my brothers and I could only "get it" to various extents, but not the whole picture. I don't know.

What I do know is that my children will know why I do what I do. They will be active participants in our family decisions about how best to live in this world, helping us to balance all the various and often conflicting rationales for choices. This will mean that they will need to know things that I did not know until much later in life (with some motherly restraint applied, of course) so that they can make informed decisions along with us.

I will have to balance this "need to know" with a healthy optimism about life. We will focus on what we can do, how we can live, and why it is so important. I do want to protect them from the despair I have felt in the last few months, at least until they have reached a certain age to be able to handle it. Not sure what that age is, but that will reveal itself. I know for sure it will be sooner than 35. In the meantime, we will continue to strive to live closer to our ideals, showing our daughters how good that life can be, openly sharing our reasons and our mistakes, involving them in the process as much as possible.

This is one sin of the father and mother that will NOT be passed on to the daughters of the daughter.

All this is not to say I don't forgive them, of course!


Anonymous said...

Yes. Mine, too, have a greater understanding of why I choose the things I do. Not because I tell them so that they know, but because I am 'genuine' around them and because I am discovering all the time new things for myself. They are so intricately a part of my life and so involved in my life and my own discovery and learning process. I guess I could say simply, "we learn together". So they still choose to veer off from my conclusions at times, and come to their own. But, they at least see many sides to the choices they have.

Good writing, M.

Summer said...

This is such a great post. It reminded me that I still need to take the time to explain to my kids why we make the choices we do.

Stephanie said...

Excellent post! But you must know how long I've been waiting for Long Lost Pictures Part II and the beach post. I think you're failing me! Don't worry, though. I forgive you.

Tracy said...

Hi Miranda,
I have to come and look for your blog every now and then because your RSS feed seems to have stopped working! So much to catch up on. I've had to read this one a couple of times. So many familiar words/thoughts. My mother was older and I never would have identified her as a feminist, however, she certainly expected her daughters to be. She passed away as I was making my way back to so many things that she was (to me) and I know it was baffling for her to see the choices I was making. I think I am sharing that understanding with my children, but I still long to share that understanding with her. I should probably never allow myself to babble on like this at such a late hour, but I wanted to take the time to say thank you. This was a wonderful, emotion-filled post.