Monday, April 4, 2011

"I Survived It" Is Not a Ringing Endorsement Of Any Experience

I came across the following quote on Facebook the other day:
When I was a kid I didn't have a computer, Nintendo DS, XBox, or Wii . I had Barbies or Hot Wheels, a bike and a sandbox. If I didn't eat what my mom made, I didn't eat. And I dealt with it. I didn't think of telling my parents "no" or dare to talk back and I got in BIG TROUBLE if I did. Life wasn't hard, it was life. And I survived. Repost if you appreciate the way you were raised.
I have heard this sentiment many, many times before. But whenever I hear or read something like this, it strikes me. I will save my feelings about media and toys for another post. For now, I want to talk about the fact that all of us who are here to tell about it "survived" our childhoods. There are grown-ups walking around with all sizes of emotional and physical scars inflicted by their parents, who can still say they survived. So I want to start there: just because someone survives his childhood, doesn't necessarily mean that his parents had it all figured out.

It is nice to appreciate the great things your parents did for you. But it's all right to acknowledge the ways in which you think your parents could have done better, if they had known better, and to try to do better by your own kids. It's all right to remember the things that made you feel bad when you were a child, and to try not to hurt your own children.

The other thing I want to address from the above quote is the idea that children should know their place, and should not disagree with or disobey parents.

Think about this: it was not long ago in our history that many women had no more freedom to choose a husband than children do to choose their parents. A woman went straight from having to obey her parents to having to obey her husband. I'm sure many "wouldn't dare say no or talk back" to their husbands. And these women "dealt with it," but that doesn't mean it was ideal. Women did not matter. Their needs, desires, opinions did not matter. And there are some places in the modern world where they still don't.

It's hard to imagine that in the United States, women were not allowed to vote until 1920, not even 100 years ago! Women fought hard to be considered full citizens. And all the while, there were whole organizations of women who were trying to block their efforts. Many were probably older women who said things like "I have always had no rights and I survived it." Amazingly enough, there are even groups of modern American women, who think that women should be absolutely quietly submissive to their husbands.

However you feel about feminism and women's rights, as a woman today you are the beneficiary of the efforts of the women who didn't take "I survived it" for an answer. You have rights.

We have come a long way as a nation in breaking down barriers based gender and even race. Age is just another barrier. So maybe a world in which a child's needs, opinions, and tastes are considered important does not look like the world in which some of us grew up. But it looks like progress, to me.

Parents who believe that children are fully people, and treat them accordingly, looks like progress. Parents letting kids choose what to eat for dinner looks like progress.

Children cannot choose their parents. But parents can choose to be the kinds of parents their children would pick if they could. We can choose to be the kinds of parents who want our kids to have much better things to say about their childhoods than "I survived."


  1. Just came across your blog from Twitter. It is wonderful! Looking forward to reading more. :)

  2. Another awesome post! I was raised by my mother on her own and from my toddler years she let me choose my own clothes and food etc. You can imagine the feedback from that, 30 years ago! A single mother even :p
    She always considered my opinions and let me choose, it made it hard for me to 'fit in' to the mainstream box (I have a feeling I was never going to anyway!) but it empowered me to be a free thinking adult and encouraged my thirst for knowledge.
    While I'm not raising my kids exactly the same way, these sort of things I do.

  3. @Becka, Wow! Your mother sounds like a real pioneer. That was very brave of her. I am also lucky to have had a mother who gave us lots of freedom and choice. And who wants to "fit in" anyway?? :)

  4. I like your points and I HATE those reposts. Drives me up a tree. I don't know why people get so nostalgic over their childhoods consisting of being forced to eat food you hate, being hit, having your mouth washed out with nasty soap.
    Ugh. It gets in the way of doing better, I think. If you're just going to look back and be all starry eyed. I like this day and age myself. No one hits me or forces me to eat food I hate. And when I have kids, I won't do those things and they won't have to SURVIVE their childhood like it's a zombie attack or a war, but enjoy it instead.

  5. Thanks Lyn! Amen to everything you just said. Your future kids will be some of the lucky ones. Hopefully yours and mine won't need rose-colored glasses to see us in a good light. :)

  6. Brilliant blog post - thanks for that. :-)

    I blamed my parents for a long time for my many persistent issues - have lots of 'scars' that I still tend to use as a crutch.

    I think there is a lot going for overt rituals of rights of passage that respect the individual - modern rights of passage seem way too destructive too me (smoking, binge drinking, sleeping around, leaving home to live in dorms at college etc). Young people need to cross safely from childhood to adult life, supported by elders in this journey.

    I see the lack of this ritual the biggest scar I carry... And I didn't provide rituals for my own children because even though I knew how important they were, awareness of what that meant hadn't actually sunk in...

    As a parent, the thing that bugs me the most about parenting is our steadfast belief that at all times we're doing the best we can. I reckon we should all start from a point of accepting our ignorance and tread carefully and cautiously, ready to admit mistakes, have another go, understand that it is all big endless experiment and be okay with that.

    I felt hopeless as a parent, lost, bewildered most of the time. Before I became a parent I 'knew it all'. Now I'm a grandparent I'm completely aware of how little I know. And anyway, it's not about knowing, it's about being and doing. Being there attentively for our kids and constantly working to understand and meet their needs.