On Sept. 28, 2006, Chatterbox talked about there being no perfect time to start a family. It was true then, and it’s still true now.
A family is a huge commitment for anyone who looks past the excitement of pregnancy, the euphoria of birth, and the dream state induced by a sweet face and the cooing of that soft, cuddly baby. A baby is a joy for everyone, but when the sleepless nights, exhaustion, teething, temper tantrums, cramping spaces and time demands of a growing new member of a family (or parents formerly free to “move about the cabin”) hits, it all gets very real, very fast.
The boomers had many advantages, and the Gen X-ers had some but, being parents today, the Millennials don’t have most of what came naturally from life at that time. They’re dealing with many more disadvantages too, including that double income American drawback that we’ve already discussed. They face the shallowing job pool, diminishing job benefits, security and automatic advancements. Also, this current generation of parents faces conditions created by the pressures resulting from our techno-media driven, self-aware, competitive world. Today, with so much social media with selfies celebrating everything, young people seem to need or want more than their parents did (even though some of those parents were, themselves, affected by that same daily tech feed). Our global expansion but shrinking mainstream made many formerly very optional acquisitions become bottom line.
There are and always will be those parents who manage to still raise youngsters who learn the meaning of hard work, saving, good grades, scholarships and saving. That’s such a great step in the right direction, but there are always those who don’t take it. That is a choice.
Regardless of how parents handle commitments to their children, and regardless of the prioritization of material possessions, whether desired or needed, parenting is and always has been a full-on sacrifice of self for “hands on” parents. We are called upon for all manner of running and doing for that family we wanted. Even older adults who yearn for a family of their own are caught unawares and can become overwhelmed by the sheer selfless dedication it takes … and it takes complete dedication. The life of a parent who wants to be involved – or who can’t afford not to be involved – really goes off the rails from the very start.
Initially, new parents are sleep deprived, constantly concerned, and indulgent, soon discovering that those midnight walks around in the crib in circles aren’t nearly as cute as they look in the movies. We pace, we coddle, and learn, in fairly short order, that we’ve conditioned the baby to expect whatever overload of attention and pampering we, initially, thought was the right thing to do.
Children don’t mean to be difficult; they just are new members of the planetary race and need a guide around the globe. That “guide” position job description is fascinating: full time; permanent; on-call 24-7-52 to be called to do overtime, anytime, no weekends or holidays off except when arranged in advance with reliable child care, during which parents remain “on-call” for any and all emergencies; free time becomes a hard won, conditional and very momentary perk; financial freedom once enjoyed will be minimal, if any … the list goes on and on.
Parenting and heading a family, whether it’s a family one marries into, creates from scratch, or a combo-pack, is not for wimps. Parents will be called upon to chauffeur, coach, sew Scout badges and become Scout leaders, make Halloween costumes and bake sale items, kick soccer balls, shoot hoops, do dinner, make midnight runs to the next town’s all-night dollar store for poster board, and that’s just the cold draft off the tip of the iceberg (more complete list available upon request and subject to constant updating).
Chatterbox has done numerous columns on various aspects of marriage, parenting, and both the real and the humorous side of this questionable decision and its bottomless demands as well as its glorious, inestimable joy. When we see volunteers coaching the soccer team and cheerleaders, heading up a Brownie troop, driving a minivan full of screeching kids, giving up gym memberships or eating on the run to be at a Little League game, band concert, or school play, we’re seeing an investment in the future.
Completing the task to gain unconditional love and respect is never easy, not for one day. The trade-off? Oh, that answer is easy … inestimable joy, and, of course, earning Super-Hero Status.