My children are grown. My daughter will soon be 31, she has two daughters that are 9 and 10, and my son just turned 25 a couple of months ago, he has a 2-year-old son. I have been watching them with their children and I see many of the parental characteristics in them that I saw in myself and their father. Some of which were wrong!
We all make mistakes of course but to see them repeated by our children is the ultimate slap in the face. We hope that we have taught them better. We had hoped that we were honest enough to tell our kids, “Hey, I was wrong when I did such and such, don’t repeat that mistake.” In many respects, I have done just that. I try to keep my mouth shut as the kids are dealing with their own children and talk to them when the grandkids are not around. It is hard; but, (for the most part), I have been able to do just that.
On occasion, I find myself compelled to contradict my children in front of my grandchildren. They resent it of course but how can you sit by and see those little faces in such emotional stress when Daddy or Mommy is harping about something that we ourselves harped over, knowing that we, and in their turn, our children are also wrong. Especially if a spanking or sitting in a corner is involved.
My daughter does not spank. My son does. My daughter admits that there were times when the spankings she got were the only thing that prevented her from doing other things later on. My son remembers, and resents, every spanking he ever got. (In his memory, there were more than he actually got and they were each more severe than in reality.) He swears that they never helped him or hindered him in any way.
As I watch my children, especially my daughter, with their own kids I find myself wondering about the values they are teaching them. For example I do not at any time remember telling my kids, “You are (or, I am) no better than anyone else.” I never said to them, “I don’t care what others think of me.” Although I did say, “Don’t be concerned about what people call you; be concerned about what names you answer to.”
Recently I found myself asking my daughter about this ‘You aren’t any better than anyone else’ thing. Her response was, “Well they aren’t Mom and neither are any of the rest of us.”
I realize, of course, that the context of my daughter’s statement has a lot to do with what she is trying to teach my grandchildren but in this case, it was not to reprimand a prejudice against a person that was poorer than my granddaughter or another color or not quite as smart as she is. (This particular granddaughter is a genius.) It was in reference to a bully of sorts that my granddaughter had denied the permission to come to a sleepover party. This bully happens to be the daughter of one of, my very much younger, first cousins.
“I have to argue with that ‘You are no better’ comment. I am better than a lot of people and not quite as good as others.” I told my eldest child. She appeared somewhat shocked by this statement.
“Mom! How can you stand here with your certificate of ordination hanging above your head and say such a thing?” she wailed.
“How can you sit there and put yourself, or more to the point, my granddaughter in the same class with a bully?” was my response.
That is the key to my argument with statements such as these. I am better than say the rapist, the murderer, the liar. I do not rape, murder, molest children, (or adults for that matter) or lie just to hear my own voice the way some do. I would never rape, molest or lie just to hear my own voice under any circumstances. In fact, my children used to warn all their friends and their friends parents that before asking me a question, on any subject at all, they should first ask themselves if they really wanted the answer, because I would give it to them even if it hurt one of us. It was a point of pride for both me and my children.
Of the four things mentioned in the paragraph above, (as you may have noticed) there is only one of which I feel that I might be induced into committing. That one is murder. Yes, murder is something that I am quite capable of committing. If my life or the life and or safety of my loved ones were threatened, I could and would kill. In my mind, I would justify it as self-defense or defense of that loved one but it would still in effect be murder. “Thou shall not kill.” says the Bible. The Bible never makes any reference to self-defense, it does not say, “Thou shall not kill unless thou art threatened.” Therefore, no matter how I lived with the act on a personal level, it would still in effect be murder. That is beside the point.
The point is that I am better than some people. I am not as good as others. I know a couple of people that would give their lives for others. We have several of our young people doing just that every day. More now, with the war in the Middle East. I would not. I do not agree with this war. I did not agree with it from the start. I do not know how I would feel or how I would react to a war that I felt justified. I am not young enough to be involved and have never faced such a situation in my youth.
I know people that will give the last morsel of food that they have to a person in need, even when they themselves are hungry. I am not one of those people.
That is not to say that I have not given to the needy, I have. I have even given most of what I have to someone in need before. I was not hungry at the time and I did retain enough food to sustain myself, in comfort, until I could get more. So yes, I think that those people that would have given all that they had in the same situation are better than me. I am glad that they exist because they give us all hope. I wish I was one of them but the fact that I am not is something that I have to live with and accept.
As for the, “I don’t care what others think of me” statement, who do we think we are kidding when we say that? I care what others think of me. I care that just before this paragraph I admitted to something I consider a character flaw in myself and that you are reading it and could have thought better of me had I not admitted it.
I remember a time when my daughter came home each day from school crying. I discovered, after a lot of cajoling and digging, that she was being teased by a group of what was then called, ‘the preps’. Apparently they had discovered that my daughter was not in fact one of them even though they had accepted her during the previous two years of school. You see I was a truck driver. It would have been different if I had worked in an office and my husband had driven a truck but the facts were that my husband had no interest in working at all and that I was the breadwinner of the family.
I had worked in an office for several years. One of the biggest law firms in Chicago in fact. I had been a litigation expert. However, it did not pay well enough. I had another full time job at the same time, working nights in a 24-hour veterinary clinic and kennel. I also waited tables on the weekends and still, when it came time to send my daughter to junior high, I was unwilling to send her to the local public school and could not afford private schooling. I had to do something and there was no time left in my weeks for yet a fourth job. I studied chemistry and got a job cleaning up and hauling hazardous waste, the highest paying position I could find.
Being self educated and terrible at math, the chemistry did not come easy to me. The driving was something that I was not exactly a natural at. Nevertheless, I found it was necessary and we do what we must when it is for our children. I was proud of my accomplishment. My daughter was harassed because of it.
I won’t tell you what the general opinion of a woman driving a truck alone was; it was nasty and not relevant to this writing. The fact is that while my daughter now tells her children that she doesn’t care what others think about her and they shouldn’t care what they are called either, she did care about what I was called when she was even older than they are now.
In my work on a community newspaper recently, I found myself in a position where I was able to interview several of the more prominent members of the community, members of the community that seemed to be involved with every volunteer project that came along. (I was involved in quite a few myself.) Those that allowed themselves the luxury of being honest, (after I promised not to reveal any names) admitted that they had not actually considered it consciously but that yes, they started getting involved in community affairs to be thought of as ‘better people’ by the ‘regular’ members of the community.
One person, whom shall remain nameless, admitted that he became involved in community volunteer work because he intended to be the mayor of a certain community when he retired. He is the mayor of that community.
One exceptionally honest member of a volunteer committee even admitted that she joined a local church and appeared devout specifically to be thought better of by others.
The bottom line is that most of us do care what others think of us. Some of us do nothing to raise the opinion of others about ourselves and some of us do. Some of us will hear a nasty name called and wonder if it is directed at us and be bothered about it. Some of us will hear a nasty name and be bothered knowing it is directed at us and others will hear a nasty name, know it is for them and not care at all.
I am glad to be among one of those that care, it makes me a better person.