Why Our Parents Can Be A Tough Act To Follow

by Cara Stevens
Originally Published: 
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Whether you’re trying to live up to your parents’ standards of parenting or trying desperately to do better than they did, your parents will always be the standard against which you’ll measure your effectiveness as a parent.

My parents have always been the well-put-together type. By the time my siblings and I were ever presented with a rule, plan or situation, it was always a done deal and non-negotiable. Somehow they raised three creative kids for whom being on time, planning far in advance and strict rules are ideals to aspire to one day, but never today. Our apples have somehow fallen a little far from that tree in that respect.

Not surprisingly, my siblings and I couldn’t be more different from each other in many ways. That’s one of the wonderful mysteries about parenting siblings, isn’t it? Same house, same environment, same parents, but somehow we ended up with three completely disparate lives and careers. We’re all creative—a fertility specialist, an interior designer and a writer—but we all create vastly different things.

And somehow, although we are adults in our 40s and 50s, we are still the obedient offspring of our parents. We always strive to do the right thing, and so do all our kids. We are aware of the importance of dressing properly for any occasion and err on the side of dressing up rather than down. We have given our children a strong Jewish foundation that guides them morally and ethically while still allowing for lobster nights, cheeseburgers and going to the movies on Friday nights.

We’re all solidly in the prime of middle age, yet we each still weigh our decisions with the thought in the forefront of each of our minds: What will mom and dad say when they hear about this? They are our collective active conscience, guiding our steps as adults, as parents, as partners and as citizens of the world.

That is a tough act to follow.

The first night I sat with my newborn daughter in a rocking chair in the corner of her bedroom, I held her tiny hands in mine, looked into her unfocused, darling little perfect eyes and said, “What will I possibly do to Fuck you up in the next 17 years?” She burbled then, smiling up at me angelically. Now, at almost 14, she’d probably have a brief treatise prepared. And in three more years, I’m sure the list will grow. When packing her for summer camp last month, sitting not five feet from the spot where I had first rocked her and asked that question, I was actually hit with a “don’t be so overbearing, Mom.” Yeah, her list is eventually going to be a good, long one.

Our kids love us to infinity and beyond. Sometimes I’m not sure whether or not it may be due to a mild case of Stockholm Syndrome, but mostly I’m confident that it’s true filial love, bordering on a companionate love and even, at times, friendship. But I can’t help but feel guilty—an ephemeral, nebulous cloud of guilt—for whatever I’m doing to make their parenting journey and lives as adults, partners and friends more challenging. I should probably start by not talking about them so much in essays like this, but then, maybe I’m just priming the pump so they’ll have something to talk about in therapy someday.

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