My son and I went to the park this morning. Not the usual park that is near our house, but one in which the swings are in complete shade. Underneath a towering tree, four regular swings hang next to two baby swings. Upon arrival, one of the baby swings was occupied by a girl older than Miller who was being pushed by her dad. I lifted Miller into the empty swing and started a conversation with the guy. Within a matter of minutes, we graduated from small talk about the weather to talking about schools, government, and the importance of male roles in families. We also talked about our own childhoods.
Without divulging personal accounts of his youth, I’ll use his words as a summation: “I didn’t have a real good childhood.” Due not to behavior, but to a lack of able parents, he wound up in the system living in multiple group homes over the years. Places that, as he said, “didn’t have any feeling.” His words gave me chills as the swings squeaked in the background.
Eventually, as an adult, he moved here after learning of his biological grandmother. She has since passed. Now he has a three-year-old daughter, so he remains here to be near her.
He pushed his little girl high in the swings as she squealed with excitement, “I’m going high! Higher than him!” pointing to my son. “Do you think you’ll go so high that your feet will touch the clouds?” I asked. “Noooo,” she said, her voice ringing with a “don’t be silly” tone.
I told my swing-pushing pal that my dad hung a swing from one of the trees in our yard when I was little. Sometimes he would push me so high that my toes would touch the tree branches, and I felt bigger than life in those moments. “I had a really great childhood – something that I’m trying to pass on to my son,” I said. He sympathized, “Since I didn’t have a good childhood I’m trying to provide one for her.” He is living the childhood he wanted through his daughter. I’m reliving the childhood I loved through my son. Our backgrounds are very different, yet our end goals are the same: We want our children to have great childhoods.
Parenting is personal. It’s a constant reminder of your own childhood. It’s also one of few areas in which you get to call all of the shots (unless, of course, it’s a situation akin to his where intervention is needed). You don’t have to parent how your parents did. You certainly can if you liked a particular aspect or have fond memories that you’d like to recreate. But, having a good childhood isn’t the only way to provide a good childhood. You can raise your child differently from how you were raised if you think you have a better way. Sometimes having an example of what not to do is a great form of motivation.
One fact remains: If you want your child to have a good childhood, be a good parent, whatever that means for you. If you’re unsure what that means for you, reflect upon your own childhood. Give it some honest thought, and then apply your conclusions. Maybe it means providing your child(ren) with regular, healthy meals. Maybe it means being present for them emotionally. Or maybe it means taking them to the park to push them in a swing on a late summer day in the shade of a tree.