Have you ever wondered why you try so hard to provide your child(ren) with a better life than you had? Have you ever heard your own parents say they worked hard to give you the childhood they didn’t have growing up? What about your grandparents? Have they compared their childhood to life your parents had?
This is an interesting phenomenon although some cultures are committed to this principle of sacrificing and working hard to give the next generation a better opportunity, a better future for generations to come. In fact, this is the reason America was inhabited and continues to be the place where people from all over the world come to get better jobs and education, with the main purpose of making a better life for the next generation.
As an African American, I can look back just four generations to find ancestors bought and tortured through slavery and offsprings from the slave owners taking the female slaves for their pleasure. In fact, on both sides of my family, the owners had two families with children that in fact had the same names. The only thing separating the households was a hill, with the slaves living at the foot of the hill on the plantation and these brothers and sisters never had the opportunity to play with each other.
Can you imagine the life of slavery? I know I can’t, but I know that my ancestors all dreamed of a better life for their children. Thankfully, these brave men and women creating generations of successful educators, an architect, corporate executives and several small business owners. Even with the success of the generations that preceded mine, there’s still this drive to give our children an even better life than we had growing up.
I had an amazing childhood! I really didn’t realize I didn’t have money until late in junior high school, because of the sacrifices that my mom made and the support she received from my family to provide my needs and fill my life with so much love that the wants never really mattered to me… Much!
However, now with my own child, I feel compelled to buy every Spiderman toy on the shelf because of those times that my mom told me that she didn’t have the money to buy me toys when we went to Kmart. I mean really… How many toys does a four year old really need?
My wife’s mom was also a single mom and she worked tirelessly to take care of her children. When she wasn’t working, she was so extremely exhausted that she was often asleep trying to get enough energy for her next shift. This means that she wasn’t as available for her kids to do homework, play and support them in extracurricular activities. She had to do it by herself and didn’t have a team or village to encourage her kids to do more. She had to make money to pay the rent and keep the lights on.
Now my wife believes that she is doing our son a disservice by only spending a few hours a day with him. Ironically as small business owners, we have the flexibility to bring him to the office all day or even all week when school is closed, attend every single function at his preschool, leave the office early to take him to Tae Kwon Do, take off on Fridays to go to swim and even take the day just because. This is way more time and flexibility than either of our parents had combined, but we still feel guilty when we don’t get quality time with him in the evenings after work. Why?
I believe we all carry the guilt of our childhood. Whatever we feel that we didn’t get from our parents we then overcompensate for with our children. I know that growing up without my dad means that I will likely be at every single sports practice and game and I might even coach, because I really missed having my dad there for me when I played sports as a young boy.
This is a cycle that is difficult to break and frankly I don’t know that I want to break this one. I want to make sure that I don’t beat myself up when I can’t be there. I want to be able to accept that I can’t buy him everything. I want my wife to know that it’s okay and healthy for our son to gain some independence and that he can only get this by spending quality time away from us and that it is okay.
We can’t change our past and we shouldn’t try to overcompensate for it through our children. Instead, we must embrace that our past helped us to grow and develop into the people we are today. That the challenges and disappointments we experienced have helped us to be better parents. And the fact is, our child is likely to have an issue with something we didn’t do for him and will again transfer this to his children with a goal of making sure that his children never have to go through what he did.
I think we simply need to embrace this guilt from our childhood and use it as motivation to celebrate how far we have come and acknowledge the sacrifices and hard work of our ancestors to ensure that we have a better life than they had.