Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Young are Best Suited to Parenting the Young

Years ago I worked with a lady that described a neighbor family as having 15 children, all single births. She said that the first half of the children turned out pretty well but that the last half provided an endless source of both private and public problems.

Some years later I became acquainted with a family that had eight children. Both parents seemed fairly sharp. The four older children were all solid citizens raising their own stable families. The next two both experienced a number of challenges before righting their ships of life and becoming productive members of society. The last two.... Well, frankly, it was, as a mutual friend said, as if the parents had run out of energy by the time those two were being raised.

My brother, who has been an empty nester for several years recently described hosting his son, daughter-in-law, and their three young children for several days at Thanksgiving. While the association was nice, my brother said that after their guests were gone he and his wife collapsed exhausted on the couch and listened to the quiet.

I quipped to my brother, "What you are saying is that the parenting of young children is best left to young parents." "Precisely," he replied. Someone then remarked that by the time you've learned all of the lessons of parenting children you no longer have any at home, but that this is good because you also lack the necessary energy for the task.

Our older children regularly harangue us with the "You never let us get away with that" refrain. I openly admit to them that they are often right. But then I rattle off my reasons:
  • There are more of you to deal with at present than there were back then.
  • I now have a much better idea about which battles are worth fighting, thanks to training provided by the older children.
  • Each child is an individual. The tactics that worked for you don't work well with your younger sibling.
  • Perhaps more important than any of the above is the fact that I am older and have less pep than I did back in the day.
This last point is not to be underestimated. My wife and I married later than most of our friends. Then it took us several years (and some fairly invasive infertility treatments) to begin having kids. The age difference between me and my oldest child is greater than the age difference between my brother and his youngest child. We had five kids while many of our contemporaries had fewer. Not that I'm complaining. This was, after all, our own choice. Also, biology being imperfect, the births of our children were often spaced further apart than we had hoped.

This means that my wife and I are fairly well seasoned. Some of our friends have grandchildren as old as our youngest child. People have occasionally thought that our daughter was our granddaughter. It kind of shocks me to think of how old I will be when I am attending our daughter's high school graduation ceremony.

My wife and I have studied a great deal of literature on how to properly raise children. The world is full of experts that, despite having very imperfect family relations, apparently know how to market books about ideal family life. Heck, my wife has a degree on the subject. (Family relations, not book selling.) I often know what I should do. But sometimes I simply lack sufficient vitality to do it. The weakness of my flesh sometimes means that my hard gained knowledge and wisdom are worth naught in practice.

It used to amaze me to see the extreme eagerness of some to get their kids out of the home. I wondered why they had embarked on the parenting adventure in the first place. Given my ever increasing weariness, I am much less prone to such judgments nowadays. Although our nest will be occupied by more than just the two of us for many years yet, I am told that there is joy (or maybe joyful terror) to be found in watching a fledgling take flight.

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