As a parent of two young adults, I often reflect on what it means to be a good parent. What is the measure of parental success? Is it as measured simply as having happy, successful children? Do we claim success at the accomplishments of our offspring, and therefore do we claim failure when they stumble? Or is it more complex than that? I myself believe the latter. Having experienced the ups and downs and sometimes treacherous landscape that is parenting, I now view my own parents through a very different lens.
I was raised by two pretty amazing parents and while I may not have always appreciated that growing up, I certainly do now. My parents grew up in Chicago during the depression and are part of what journalist Tom Brokaw deemed “the greatest generation.” They were brought up with strong Midwestern values, devout Catholics, hard working and of the belief in putting others before yourself. To this day, that is how they live their lives. They raised eight children while my father grew a successful business he started from scratch with perseverance and what he called “moxie.” Eight kids in rapid succession in the days before disposable diapers, cable TV and the Internet. It boggles the mind.
I won’t claim that my parents were perfect or that I had a perfect childhood. I don’t believe in either of those things. Life in a large family is not always easy. More mouths to feed, more toddlers to chase after, more teenagers to worry about, more sibling rivalry and the ever present underlying chaos. Along with all of that, we had the kind of Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter Holidays that make childhoods magical. The house was always festively decorated and mom cooked traditional and delicious meals, there was laughter, warmth and there was fun. There was camaraderie, shared responsibilities, a fair amount of good natured teasing and occasional physical altercations (owing to several rambunctious boys in the mix.) In other words, it was a home filled with love. Something that should never be taken for granted.
Over the years I came to realize that my parents were in fact really, really good parents. Not because my siblings and I were stellar offspring, star pupils or athletes (some of us did well, some struggled) or that we were perfectly behaved (oh, the stories I could tell) or that we never fought or treated each other unkindly.
They were great parents because they taught us to be compassionate, to believe in ourselves, to never give up and to follow our dreams. They were great parents because we felt safe and loved in our home. They were great parents because they showed us what a loving marriage was.
I am not exaggerating when I say that my parents have one of the strongest, most loving marriages I’ve witnessed. I just didn’t know it at the time, because I never saw the other types of marriages. I never experienced the other types of parents.
There is a quote from Maya Angelou which goes like this;
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
When it comes to parenting, this quote really rings true for me. Because we never forget how our parents made us feel by their words and actions.
Here’s how my parents made me feel and the lessons I learned from them and why ultimately, I believe I hit the parent jackpot.
- You are loved unconditionally. They never had to say that, we just knew that. They never went overboard with praise if one of us did well at something and they never demeaned us if we made mistakes. They just loved us and parented us.
- They made me want to pitch in and help out. That’s just how it was.
- They encouraged us to give back, showed us that volunteering and showing compassion is a gift you give to others and yourself. My mother is by far the most altruistic person I know.
- They taught us to treat everyone with kindness and respect regardless of their station in life. One thing I admire most about my dad is the way he can talk to anyone, from a small child, to a waitress at a coffee shop, to a corporate executive, with the same level of respect and interest. His demeanor is a sign of strength of character and self esteem and something I continually strive for.
- Be humble. My parents do not and have never boasted about their accomplishments, success or station in life. My dad was/is a proud and successful self made man but he never did things to impress others. And my mother never expects acknowledgment for her charitable work or contributions.
- Have faith. Faith has gotten my parents through a lot, including the loss of their oldest son and my fathers current struggles with dementia . We were raised in the Catholic Church. As adults, my parents respect our choices regarding our level of involvement in organized religion. Faith transcends all of that and the faith they instilled in us is what remains with us.
My parents are now in their eighties. They recently moved out of their home and into a retirement community. They are still thriving and they will always be an inspiration and shining example of how to live life, how to parent and how to love.
Striving and thriving (with a little help from mom and dad) in the middle years!