I had a good childhood. My parents were attentive and supportive, and we didn’t want for much.
My brothers and I had our own rooms, we had a pool in the backyard, I had a bike, we had cable, a VCR, at one point we had a Laserdisc player for some reason, and we had a big screen TV. I wasn’t spoiled; there was plenty of stuff I wanted that I didn’t get, like the latest video game system, a TV in my room, a car, a girlfriend, a social life, etc., but there was nothing I needed. It was pretty great!
Too bad it’s ruining my kids’ lives.
In some obvious cases – say, for parents who grew up during the depression – the bar is fairly low, and in some obvious situations – say for kids who grew up during the post-war boom of the 50s – the ceiling is fairly high. But these days, for many children of middle-class parents, it keeps getting harder. (Don’t worry, I’m not getting political.)
By the time my parents were my age, they’d had a lot of success. They owned a house (that they still live in), my dad had his own law firm, and together they had three kids, two cars, and a dog. Meanwhile, I pay too much rent for a small apartment (not complaining!), still don’t know what I’ll be doing next year let alone in ten years, and am already concerned about my kids’ futures – financially, environmentally, potential post-Civil War-ily. (Sorry!)
They don’t want for anything, not yet, but they will, and it’s starting to feel like I won’t be able to give it to them. Fortunately, that may be a good thing. Having a childhood in which they didn’t get everything they wanted might be exactly what my kids need to lead successful adult lives. My failures may end up paying off!
There’s an old joke about giving your kids just enough trauma so they wind up funny, based on the conventional wisdom that the best comedians have rough pasts and tortured inner lives. It’s the kind of thing that only makes sense in retrospect, because what monstrous parent would try to reverse-engineer a comedian by ruining their kid’s childhood? But the idea behind it – that circumstances impact development – is more or less true, especially when it comes to the lifestyle with which we provide our children.
Most of the time, your kids get what they get. There aren’t too many parents who can fundamentally alter their living situation just to cater to their kids’ lives and futures; your children become a part of your life, like it or not. Some of us get the short end of the stick, and some of us get lucky and are born into better situations than others, through no merit of our own. But sometimes those good situations can backfire.
Were my parents too successful for me to be successful?
That’s not fair, obviously, and honestly it’s more than a little ridiculous. Parents already feel far too much guilt and anxiety over somehow ruining our kids lives to worry about how our own success and accomplishments could somehow send them down the wrong path. I don’t blame my parents for giving my a comfortable childhood; I blame myself for not planning ahead, for letting myself become complacent, and for not doing enough to capitalize on the launching pad my parents’ hard work and success provided for me.
But I’m not giving up. I have a long way to go, and it certainly isn’t my plan to give my kids a shitty childhood. But hey, it’s tough out there, and maybe a little hardship will end up being good for them.
At this rate, it had better be.