Parenting Through the Generations
As we become parents, we always want to one up how our parents raised us. We want to give our kids the best of everything that we never had and make sure they want for nothing. We tell ourselves that we are going to be better and do things differently than our parents did. But should we?
Do you remember the first toy that you had as a kid where you thought, “I shouldn’t be playing with this, this could really hurt me”. Mine was a yellow, giant, steel, Tonka Dump truck. Oh how I loved that truck. In the beginning it was as safe as a steel truck could be. I would play for hours over the summer with it in the dirt and mud on the side of the house. Although tough, I was tougher. I smashed it into “boulders”, if fell off the side of a “cliff” or two; I banged that truck into anything and everything that I could find. I hauled mounds of dirt up makeshift ramps and over imaginary bridges.
Alas, the truck had seen better days. Asking my mother for a new one was out of the question after seeing the destruction that I had unleashed upon my current fleet.
So now i’m playing with my old, scratched up, smashed, yellow and silver Tonka truck, where it barely even dumps out anymore. These were not pleasant playtimes for me. The wheels are bent, the steel corners are jagged and the plexiglass windows are all shattered out. I played with this new version of my favorite toy and others like it for the remainder of their days (until my mother threw them out). I still have all the scar tissue on my hands and arms to prove it.
Why did my mother not get me that new truck? Why did she allow me to play with something so dangerous as it could cut my skin and leave me in bleeding with an infection from one of the sharp jagged edges that I created. When playing with my old favorite Tonka truck I had to learn how to handle it in such a way that I didn’t slice my finger off. I learned how to problem solve. The same “boulders” that I used to destroy my Tonka truck I used to bang the corners and edges back down. I learned that I had to take care of my truck, after I destroyed it, because I wasn’t getting another one. Kids learn through experience.
Now that I have kids I look back on my childhood and think what would I do differently in raising my kids than my parents did with me. The one thing that always come to mind is safety or the lack thereof. That Tonka truck should have been retired way before it actually was.
Looking at Parenting through the generations Safety has always seemed to be a relative thing. I’ve turned out to be a fairly cautious parent. I do try to give my daughters a sense of living though. I try to get them to do things that they might not do normally and get them to conquer their fears. This starts with their playtime and involvement in extracurriculars. I tell them stories of my childhood, comparing the conditions in which they have to perform compared to mine or even their grandmothers or great grandmothers. I just try to get across to them that they won’t die or lose a leg if they have to run across loose rock.
Playground equipment wasn’t exactly super safe as it is today when I was a kid. There weren’t woodchips on the playground, just concrete. School recess was held out in the parking lot on top broken glass, broken concrete and pebbles. Thats where we played football, dodgeball and soccer. The girls jumped rope and when a car came into the parking lot we had to scurry to the sides. Kids today have it way too easy with their grass and artificial turf everywhere. They are afraid to play off of their padded path, all because they are surrounded by safety nets.
When did being a kid become so dangerous to where I have to put foam cushions on the corner of the tables and plastic plugs in the electrical sockets? There is 10 inch rubber padding under the swings at the park, and the slides were made shorter so the kids wouldn’t hurt themselves falling onto the 6 inch thick layer of woodchips that oddly feel rubberish.
Speaking to my mother on her experiences as a child, and the farther back you go, the more laxed the safety concerns were for parents of past generations. Although car seats existed not many people used them. Their playground equipment consisted of steel deathtraps that sent kids flying off as it went rapidly spinning in a circle. The swings were long enough for them to go over the top and even jump off onto the concrete some 10 or more feet away. They learned not to stick their fingers in the socket after seeing a cousin get thrown across the room. Kids learned by doing.
My parenting experience has been a mixed bag with my youngest. Although I’m fearful that she will kill herself, I also have seen how tough she is. Our first near death experience, or at least my first real life experience of what a heart attack must be like, was when she was just 6 months old. She was in her crib, standing up holding onto the bars. We were playing and I was in the process of changing her. I turned around to grab something off of the bed. Halfway through my turn I just heard a loud crash. Quickly turning back around I see Kammie head first halfway inside of the diaper box. Her legs weren’t moving. She wasn’t making a sound. Time stopped in that moment. My mind raced not knowing what to do. I stood there for what seemed like hours not breathing. My heart stopped beating and my legs got weak.
I ran over to the box which was sandwiched between the side of the bed and the wall, and I pulled out my Kammie by one leg. I was hesitant, but I looked down at her face not knowing what to expect. What would I tell her mom? What would I tell her sister? How could I live with myself?
Looking down I was shocked and relieved to see my Kammie looking up at me laughing harder than I had ever seen her laugh. Flipping her around I frantically inspected her body for cuts and bruises. She was flawless! She was happy and flawless. I had never been so scared and relieved in such an instant before. The fear and joy that overtook me was… exhilarating.
So this is what it’s like to be a Dad? I have to keep this kid alive even when she wants to do something that can kill her. We’ve had many more occurrences since then, I’ve come to learn that she is quite the daredevil. Her sense of fear is almost non-existent and she is determined to do anything that she sets her mind to.
As you can imagine we’ve been to the Emergency Room many, many nights. Nothing ever serious or even worth going to the ER for it turns out. But over the course of our visits and reflecting on how we end up in the ER so much, I have learned that even though I have to put limits on her based on her chance of killing herself, I also have to let her test her own limits and not be afraid when she isn’t. Sure she gets some dents and dings, but she is stronger, smarter and safer from it.
Parenting through the generations has changed drastically but what we’ve all wanted was to have strong independant kids. With the mounting safety nets how will the kids learn to do or handle difficult obstacles that come in there way. Sure they may fall, they’ll have bruises, they might even break an arm; but they will learn something from it. Hopefully how to do it better the next time or to not do it at all. They need to feel consequence. They need to feel life, kind of like how we felt it. I mean we all aren’t beat to hell.