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As a dad to 2 boys (ages 9 and 11) I swore I’d never do it, but more often than I care to admit, I’ve gone there.
“Well, when I was your age…”
Honestly I say it with the best of intentions, more often than not it is meant to show what is possible, to encourage them.
“But mom/dad I can’t do (insert activity/chore of your choice).”
“Oh really? Well when I was your age I mowed the lawn backwards, uphill in raging snow storms — you can do it as well.”
As parents, Jen and I certainly want to push our kids and help them explore their boundaries and comfort levels. Isn’t that part of being a parent? You know to protect, yet encourage, and provide opportunities for our kids to learn/explore/seek new and exciting things?
One of the best ways I know or am able to show something is possible is by demonstrating or showing that I did it.
Because if I could do it when I was 9 or 11, that means they can too. Right?
This approach comes with its own set of problems. Our boys are pretty smart, and on more than one occasion they have turned the argument around. “But mom/dad, when you were our age you did …” Damn — they are right. Now what?
As adults, what kind of harm or damage are we doing to our kids by comparing their life today to our own child hood? When I was their age, I was much more of a “free range” child than my kids are today.
Growing up in Watertown and Somerville Mass, with a couple dollars in our pockets, some friends and I would take the bus to comic book stores in Harvard Square (according to Google maps, this was 3.8 miles from our apartment. Today it is a 29 minute bus ride. It seemed so much further).
A short walk to the bus stop and 3.7 miles later was comic book bliss.
Comic book money was mine, earned from doing chores or left over from holidays. Beyond making sure we had quarters, dimes and nickels for the bus or pay-phone — mom didn’t interfere (much).
We would play stick ball with broken or discarded hockey sticks and any random ball we could find. (Racquetball balls were preferred — those puppies could fly!)
We were consistently pushing the limits of what “when it gets dark, please come home” really meant. The empty lot we played in was our own Fenway Park, the wall of the old armory was our Green Monster.
Today, our kids “range” less than a mile from our home. They don’t venture to abandoned lots or take the bus alone.
“Play dates” are set up via Facebook and text messages.
Is one better than the other? While I am very nostalgic about my childhood, I don’t necessarily want our boys to have it the same way. I want to pick and choose the great things about my childhood and share those moments and use them as positive examples.
Concerts on the Boston Common? Yes please. Stick ball with my friends in the abandoned lot? Most definitely.
Ronald Reagan getting elected? No thanks.
Virtually every public polling group and national publication has asked the question, “Is America better off today than we were 10, 15 or 25 years ago?” Other than shedding some light on how optimistic (or pessimistic) we are, this is a just a silly question. The answer we give is of course largely dependent on our feelings about today and what we remember or believe to be true about the past. Some define “better” in terms of financial stability. Others based it on job satisfaction, health, or available opportunities for their own children.
As adults we are continuously discovering more about ourselves. As parents and adults, we have the added benefit of also getting to know our children — often times they teach us so much about ourselves. With this constant cycle of learning and understanding, relying too much on our experiences to push our kids in one direction or another or to expand their range further than they may want-could be doing more harm than good.
In 1982, At 11 years old I doubt it was my parent’s idea to have me take the bus with a pocket full of money to a comic book store. Today though I am glad I had the opportunity to range so far from home and of course happy mom allowed me to do so, my perspective has certainly changed. Eleven years old in 2015 — in Sabattus Maine — feels like a lifetime away from 11 years old in 1982 in Watertown, Mass.
Funny thing … today, no way would I allow my kids to take the bus, with a pocket full of cash to the comic books store.
Perhaps they’ll think to ask their grandmother? Wait… NO!!!
Will Fessenden is a father, husband, writer, and thinker. You can find more of his writing below: