"When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at
all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood
is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable
childhood is the miserable Irish childhood and worse yet is the
miserable Irish Catholic childhood." (Frank McCourt -
"I would like to thank my parents in Vergaio, in a little
village in Italy. They gave me the biggest gift - poverty! And I
want to thank (them) for the lesson of my life." (Roberto
Benigni during his Oscar Speech for Life is
I believe it is quite natural for parents to want to give their
kids the best possible childhood imaginable. I have friends who
spend inordinate amounts of time planning the perfect birthday
party, the perfect vacation, and the perfect life. I tip my hat to
them and applaud their efforts and ambition. They simply want to
create some magic for their kids.
I, of course, see things somewhat differently. While I
understand the desire to shield and protect, my own instinct tells
me that a dream-sequenced upbringing doesn't prepare kids for life.
And if my boys are anything like me, they are going to be making a
lot of mistakes every step of the way. Therefore, we have no time
for fairy dust or musical dance numbers when there is only a very
small window to teach them how to cope with the epic ups and downs
I should point out that my boys do live in a comfortable,
middle-class world. They are loved and cherished. I spend my days
driving them to whatever current activities I have found to improve
their minds and bodies. I worry about them constantly, and I fight
the urge to make them wear helmets every time they walk out the
door. I would also prefer to cover them entirely in cotton
Still, where some mothers experience guilt over what they are
unable to provide their children (time, love, attention, or
material things), I feel guilty when I sense I am giving them too
much. My husband rolls his eyes when I joyfully announce to a kid
that he can't attend a friend's birthday party because it conflicts
with piano lessons. I take relish in denying requests for candy at
the check-out register. I congratulate each and every team manager
who refuses to hand out trophies simply for "trying." It takes guts
to leave a wake of teary-eyed Little Leaguers bemoaning a
trophy-less season, particularly in today's world of protecting the
seemingly fragile child ego.
Instead of having a handy arsenal of garden-variety
disappointment and frustration that once ran rampant in childhood,
mothers are now left to hunt down these exposures. We must
never have any child ever feel remotely sad, the Sensitivity
Patrol tells us.
Because that's practical.
Yet up until the last few generations, kids learned at a very
young age that life can be hard. It was once normal for children to
help support their families, and the needs of the kids typically
came in dead last. The weight of hunger and homelessness often
rested on very slight shoulders.
While I am not ready to ship my kids off to a work camp just
yet, the lessons of history are clear. Kids are resilient. They are
tougher than they look. And they need experience in dealing with
loss and disappointment. Wrapping them in a fantasy life may feel
good in the moment, but I worry that it might do more harm than
At the end of the day, I don't believe in fairy tales. If I did,
I'd still be a size 8 and my stomach wouldn't dangle between my
knees. Yet without having gone through disappointment and struggle,
I would have never been content with a life that starts off each
morning by dropping a monster-size load of laundry into the washer.
I would have scoffed at the real magic of arguing with my
7-year-old about why the original Star Wars trilogy is
better than the newer one. I would have never appreciated the
simple joy of sitting on an old, worn couch while teaching my
youngest to read. My kids may grow up one day and wish there had
been more "magic" during their childhood, but hopefully I will have
raised them well enough to overcome that disappointment.
Into each life, a little rain must fall. As parents, perhaps it
is best if we just forget the umbrella every now and then.
Marianne is mother of three sons and the wife of a southside Irish fireman. She has learned that sometimes you're just too dumb to know what makes you happy. She blogs regularly at We Band of Mothers (webandofmothers.com) and curses with even greater frequency. Her material is written for the imperfect, the imprudent, and the impatient mothers who know that all this stuff is really very funny if you just give it a minute.
See more of Marianne's stories here.
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