26 Years and Counting

ParenthoodGrandchildren 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.

21 thoughts on “26 Years and Counting”

  1. I read that first paragraph and had a Parenthood quote at the ready…and then I scrolled down. Get outta my head, Ms. Jan.

    I have a lot to say about this post, esp the single parenting angle. And the step-parenting angle.

    However, I am wicked tired, (from the worrying part of parenting)… maybe I’ll come back later. Or write a spin on my own blog instead of here. Ack.

    GREAT POST!!
    .-= Erin´s last blog ..full moon full of candy =-.

  2. I LOVE this post because I can relate so much to your experiences. Divorcing the father of my children wasn’t nearly as hard as knowing I was making them a statistic. And my oldest son, like yours, grew up a lot faster because of it. Still, in the end, I am so damn proud of who they are. We’ll always have regrets but I think our kids would prefer us to admit to our imperfections.

    You are a great mom and a fabulous grandmother!
    .-= Beth´s last blog ..She sells herself short =-.

  3. What a fantastic post Jan. I, too, can relate so much to your feelings and experiences about parenting, with the exception of stepchilren. I am so proud of my three and many, many times have wondered how in the world they turned into the responsible, loving, compassionate people they are today for surely, it wasn’t from my hit and miss parent. I was also a single parent for most of their young lives, and made soooo many mistakes trying to keep everything and everyone together. But I know my children love and respect me and who could ask for anything more?
    .-= Jane Gaston´s last blog ..Snow People =-.

  4. Good post dear. First, with a little one back in the house you may soon remember some of those things you hate about being a parent of young children – the cycle returns, bra ha ha ha ha. We can teach our children a lot of things but experience is just one of those things that has to be earned. While they may have a glimmer that “tough love” is for their own benefit, it will be only experience that teaches them how painful it is to administer. Finally, you are being too hard on yourself. You are an honorable person and great role model for all of them – you should have no regrets about any minor mistakes because in the long run you have never made any big ones. You’re a great monther!

  5. Excellent, well thought-out post.

    Especially the bit about step parenting. It is HARD.

    “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.”

    Truer words have never been spoken. In my case, I get it from not only the child, and the parent, but the Grandparent, as well!
    .-= Ginger@When Ginger snaps…´s last blog ..Random Tuesday Questions =-.

  6. I am short on time this morning but have to take the time to say I LOVE this post and to say what a great honest post this is. You know, I relate to pretty much all of it and hate all the same things. You are an amazing woman…and wife, mother, aunt, friend, and now grandma. And I am so happy and honored to know you. XXOO Lori

    PS Enjoy and embrace every moment with that grandson of yours!
    .-= Lori´s last blog ..How many hugs have you had today? =-.

  7. This post is so spot on for much of how I feel about parenting at this stage, and I haven’t been a single or step parent. STILL you sa ywhat I would say only better. I thnk ofr my spin this week I will just send people here…

    Awesome post Jan.
    .-= Pseudo´s last blog ..Random Number Generator Action =-.

  8. I love this Spin! You are so dead on, except for the second baby thing. Let’s not jinx the powers that be, although I did allow my best friend to address John’s crotch (from a respectable distance) and tell them to get things moving along.
    I can understand most of everything you say, some I obviously can’t, but I can still see that all of the necessary hates came out of your love for your children and your determination to make a bad thing better.
    I heart you.
    And you’re linked. 🙂
    .-= Sprite’s Keeper´s last blog ..The Death of "Noah" =-.

  9. Love this post Jan! I too have been Step Parent, Single Parent and now something that you not yet experienced- Empty Nester. LOL. I am divorced from the man who made me a Step parent but they still call me Mom which warms my heart. They are both grown now- one with kids of her own. One of my only regrets is that I wasn’t a part of her babies’ lives, but they live out of state and it was not meant to be. Happy facebook exists now because we are re-connected! (((hugs to one of the best moms I know)))))

    Linda

  10. I could sign my name to this post and it would be 100% true about me and how I feel about my parenting skills. I think that’s why we do things so differently with out grands, although I have 2 of my grands so much, I see myself repeating those same parenting skills but then justifying them by saying……Well shit….I don’t know any other way.

    “little one back in the house”?? Did I miss something?
    .-= Midlife Slices´s last blog ..A Foot On The Dash and A Broom In The Eye =-.

  11. I don’t like the premise of writing about what you dislike about being a parent. But then I don’t really like negativity. Gratitude. It’s all about gratitude. And I like the way you’ve approached it, especially this – “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.”
    .-= A Free Man´s last blog ..I’m no philosopher. I am no poet. =-.

  12. I’m a single parent so I can relate to so much of what you’ve said. It’s good to know I’m not the only one who hates those things. Sometimes I forget, sequestered in my little fortress of solitude, that I’m not the only one who’s gone through this. Thanks for sharing.

Comments are closed.