Grandchildren are a parent’s reward for not killing their children.
I’m an old parent, and I’ll be the first to admit it – I’ve been doing this job for 26 1/2 years. It recently dawned on me, as I spoke with Jolly on the phone when she had a question about Little Guy, that I will continue to do it until the day I am no more. That’s something you don’t think about when you have a baby: you don’t stop being a parent when your youngest turns 18 or graduates from college or even when they have children of their own. Being a parent is a lifetime commitment, and a challenging one at that.
As Jason Robards said in Parenthood: It’s like your Aunt Edna’s ass – it goes on forever and it’s just as frightening.
The Spin Cycle this week is about what you dislike about parenting. Jen’s take on it is what you dislike about parenting a toddler or small child, which makes sense because Jen is the mother of a toddler (and hopefully, a second baby next year). I would be less than honest if I didn’t confess right here that I don’t remember what I disliked about being the parent of small children, if for no other reason than it’s been so damn long since I was the mother of a small child. And, frankly, there are so many other things I hate about being a parent that watching The Little Mermaid 47 times a week kind of pales in comparison.
When I found out that we were going to become grandparents, I – naturally – let everyone I could think of know it. Without exception, every one of my friends who is already a grandparent told me that it’s just the most wonderful thing you could possibly experience, but only one person made any real attempt to explain why. My sister, Whacky-But-Lovable, who already has 3 grandkids, said, “You know, part of it is you just have the time and patience to enjoy them. I don’t know if it’s age, or experience, or maturity or merely the fact that you’re not directly responsible for them every minute of every day, but I wish that I’d had the foresight to enjoy my kids the way I do my grandkids. I was just too busy screwing up being a parent.”
I understand that statement today in a way I’d never have been able to when my children were small, because I think the thing I hate most about being a parent is knowing I’ve done so much wrong over the years and I cannot go back and do it over again.
I hate that I had to be a single parent. It doesn’t matter if the decisions I made that led up to single parenthood were in the best interest of everyone concerned; I hate the fact my family, and my children, became part of a grim statistic. I hate that Oldest Son had to grow up so quickly because of it. I hate that I was so busy and so tired and so preoccupied with just trying to hold it all together that my older kids had to sacrifice so much of their childhoods. The knowledge that if I’d remained married, life for all of us would have been exponentially worse doesn’t change the fact that I hate those things.
What’s ironic is that although I’m no longer a single parent, no longer scraping to get by, no longer too tired, too busy, too preoccupied, I feel The Young One is getting a bit shortchanged. After all, I’ve been doing this a very long time and there is precious little the kid could pull that would surprise or phase me. A lot of the parenting I do these days is done on autopilot, and I hate that, too. But by the time you get to Number Five, it’s hard to avoid.
Once I was no longer a single parent, I found myself in the sometimes unnerving position of being a step-parent. In many ways, being a step-parent means you have become responsible for children but have no real authority over them. Very often any attempt at authority – any attempt at anything other than complete passivity, really – is met with resentment, if not out-and-out hostility, from both the children and their parents. Don’t get me wrong – being a step-parent is extraordinarily rewarding, but it is also extremely hard. While it’s certainly not true today, there have been times when I hated being a step-parent.
I hate that I ever felt it necessary to yell at my kids. I hate the times I had to discipline them, even if it was for their own good. I hate that, as they grew up, I could not make them listen to the voice of my experience (much less learn from it), or keep them from repeating the same mistakes I’ve made. I hate that I can’t just smack some sense into them, no matter how often I’ve threatened to. I hate the fact I’ve ever had to use the words “tough love” in regards to any of them. I hate there are some hurts they’ve suffered that no words I can offer or gestures I can make or love I can give will ever make better. I hate that I cannot protect them from all the ills of the world, and I hate the knowledge that I shouldn’t even more.
In fact, the only thing I can think of that I might hate more than any of this is if I had never become a parent at all.
I love them more than they will ever know.