A whole generation of us men who are now fathers were ourselves raised by feminists. And if they were not expressly in the feminist movement, they were women of the times who grew up assuming that winds of change would someday blow in their direction as well. You can say what you want and critique them as you wish but the bottom line is this: the children of these women were raised very differently than any other group ever. This is especially true for us boys who are now men.
Our moms worked because they needed and wanted to. We saw our moms going to school, working, and doing the housework. While my mom was getting her masters degree I remember going to sleep to the sound of a typewriter. For a lot of my peers experiences like these created a sense that housework, parenting, work, and education was something that both moms and dads did – it was not exclusive to any gender. It instilled in us a sense that whatever needed to be done was just another task on a list that anyone with capable hands could do.
That is part of the reason that you see so many yuppie dads in Park Slope and the Upper West Side and their counterparts in Bed Stuy and the South Bronx all spending ample quality time with their kids. For one we don’t trust other people to do what we think is not only our responsibility but also what we think we can do better than anyone else. There are a lot of dads I know in our mid–late 30s whose wives feel more comfortable in their career track while we are slightly obsessed with the details that help create the universe a child is raised in; the food they eat, the toys they play with, and in filtering what they see in the outside world.
Last year I spent the better part of the year taking care of my two boys near full-time. Despite the financial hardship that this caused in my home this was the best (and hardest) year of my life. The time I spent with them was truly special. We think, like all generations that come, that we are doing the best job of raising our children. That’s probably not true. But what can we learn from the generations before us?
For most of our parents things were tougher back in the day. Their parents were from the school of thought that said children were to be seen and not heard. We do not know about abuse because people did not talk about things back then. In fact, it was assumed that a certain amount of heavy-handedness was likely good for children. As a result our parents were far more laissez-faire than our generation. We grew up like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. We also got into a lot of trouble too. It is because of the trouble that we navigated that we are now serious helicopter parents. We hover and obsess about our kids – probably to a fault – and the verdict is still out on what mistakes we are making with them.
But that is the real thing isn’t it. It really is not about what mistakes you have made. If you are a parent you are in a position to not correct what happened to you in the past – that is a crucial error – what’s likely better for you and for your children is being able to identify how different the world is in which they are living. My sons will never see that bombed out, burnt out Brooklyn. The City where a kid could be playing at a playground and a car could blow up across the street and we’d turn, watch, and then keep playing. These days that incident would be on NY1 and they’d think it was a terrorist attack.
Thank goodness that is not my son’s reality. As such I should not raise them as though it was – and I should not try and impose my trauma from growing up in that era on them either.
This is where it is tough. This is where having heterosexual sex is really a trick. Are you actually prepared to do the deep internal dive that it takes to get over your damn self and see your child for the individual they are in a world that is far different from your own and then help them navigate it?
If you aren’t, you might want to rethink that one-night-stand. Sometimes the natural world, fate, God, however you want to internalize it, just decides that it’s your time and then bam. You are stuck helping to guide and raise another human being in this world.
You will never be ready to be a parent. The least you can be is open to the challenge.
Here’s one pretty decent rule of thumb: Don’t worry about your child making mistakes. Just like you, they will make plenty. You worry about yourself and try to not make the mistakes of the people that came before you.