Understanding the Younger Generation of Families
I know that this is going to be a really controversial post, so I'm sorry if I offend anyone ahead of time. I feel like I am constantly writing about understanding the older generation, treating others with kindness and respect, and being a good neighbor, friend, and spouse. But what happens when it is me, and other young families like me, that needs the understanding and respect?
Life changes as you get older and add more people to your life. Your priorities change, your schedules changes, and even your needs and abilities change. Singles and even couples tend to have more flexibility with their time, finances, and schedules than they do when they start adding more family to their homes.
When you get even older, your children grow up and leave the home, and once again, some of that flexibility returns because you generally no longer have small dependents in your home to think about. But it feels like there's a break somewhere in the middle. It's as if those living with children are in another dimension than the rest of the world that only other parents with small children can understand.
When you were single, life was less complicated. When problems needed to be solved, bills needed to be paid, and decisions about family needed to be made, I just made them. There was no one to discuss them with, haggle things out with, or even to compromise with. Things were relatively lonely for me on a daily basis, and I would have done anything to have that special someone in my life, but things ran efficiently. I woke up at the same time everyday, maintained a simple schedule and a clean house, and went to bed at the same time.
I poured myself into my job and sometimes stayed up until all hours of the night reading a good book. When you're single, there's no one else to complicate the things of your life unless you choose to allow someone in. And even then, you always have the choice to regulate your schedule, and dating life, to suite you. All decisions were yours.
Then comes the day when you choose that other special someone to spend the rest of your life with. Suddenly every decision is shared by another. You have to consider the needs, desires, schedules and emotions of another person in your everyday living. You may have to pick a side of the bed to share at night, wake up a little earlier because your spouse's alarm clock goes off sooner than yours, movies, dates, and even dinner now have to be planned around that second person in your life.
Even bigger changes may take place, like spending less of your money on yourself so you two can buy something the other person really wants, giving up your job so that the two of you can take advantage of a fantastic opportunity in another state or city, or bumping down to one car. When the holidays come around, you may have to figure out how to manage both families every year. Being in a relationship takes compromise, which sometimes means compromise on your part.
However having someone else in your life that loves you means having someone to share good and bad times with, someone to go to the movies with, or to curl up to at night. Activities are even more fun. I remember when we wanted to go somewhere, we could be up, showered, packed and out the door in 15 minutes. We would grab food on the road and could travel for 12, 13, 14, and even 15 hours in the car. The world just seemed to open up for us.
Growing Your Family
When you decide, however, to add even the smallest family member to your growing family, like a dog or a cat, then you suddenly have another to think about. A dog may not change your movie plans, but what about your animal's needs while you're at work? What about vacations and holidays?
When our two lugs joined the family, we suddenly had to consider who would watch them if we left for the day and couldn't take them with us? When we traveled for the holidays, we had to think about their needs and comfort all along the trip, including at the hotel or house where we were going to stay. We suddenly weren't so free anymore. Now let's talk about children...
Add Kids to the Picture
When our first son was born, everything changed. We didn't get to sleep when we wanted. Both of our schedules were tangled up in our small little boy's needs. I had to consider naps, feedings, diapers, etc. We couldn't be out past 7pm, we couldn't be on the road for more than a couple hours at a time (so forget the 15 hour road trips), and his needs came into play in every single situation that came up. That also meant no more getting out of the house in 15 minutes.
Any and every situation that would have been no big deal as singles or as a couple, was suddenly a big deal. My diet changed with a small baby, because I was breastfeeding and conscious of my diet for the first time in my life. My bedtime changed because he nursed to sleep and wouldn't stay asleep without me, and I had to sit out of many activities to care for him.
I remember the criticism and arguments from friends and family that it caused because I couldn't attend all night festivities away from home at night, and I couldn't leave home on a whim because I had to consider my infant's needs. There were disputes about parenting styles and decisions, strain on my part as I learned to be a parent to a very headstrong little one, and my relationship with my husband was also struggling because of all of the new stresses. Nothing was the same.
Motherhood has been the most wonderful experience of my life, but it's also been the most trying. No one else really understands what's going on in your home, much less you. It's all about survival and doing your best not to traumatize your children for life. And then our second child came along, and everything changed again. But the understanding from others didn't. This time around though, I was prepared for it.
The Older Generation
I can't begin to say that I understand what being older is like, or what kind of struggles they face, only that there is apparently something lost between having your own small children and being alone in your home again, with the freedom and flexibility you once had before your kids came along.
We have struggled with older folks at church, friends at a different place in their lives, whether single or without kids at home, and most especially family. It's safe to say that being a parent of small children is the hot mess phase of my life. I am rarely on time, don't ever have everything I need, much less remember what I was trying to say or why I'm at the store or in the room I'm in. I'm lucky if I get to shower every three days or sleep more than 4 hours of broken sleep at night.
In fact, on any given night, I would be delighted for a pizza and small children not crawling on me during a short movie. However, it seems those that are older in our lives have expectations for us that we will never meet. During this holiday season especially... How can I possibly be expected to be at festivities at 6am, eat tons of sugar and feed it to my kids because nothing else is available, handle tired kids not given a chance to nap, and stay out until 9 or 10pm for family activities, all while keeping my children calm, peaceful and respectful?
I realize that we may not be doing things the way you did or thought we would, but is that even reasonable to expect?
The Break in Understanding
Your parents, you'd think, would be the most understanding and helpful right? They had children at one point, because you obviously exist. Shouldn't they remember, or at least recognize, the stressful days of naps, healthy snacks for the kids, early bedtimes, giving up your own desires for the needs of your kids, etc? You'd think the next generation would see your struggles and step in to help rather than asking more, but that hasn't been our experience.
All of our friends seem to be in the same boat struggling with parents and grandparents fighting to see the kids, but then complaining about them the whole time. Parents that smoke or wear heavy cologne, leave dangerous medications lying about, along with sharp knives and scissors, refusing to change dirty diapers or handle crying, all the while begging to babysit. It makes absolutely no sense.
I've even had all out arguments with both sides of the family because they don't respect our parenting decisions and fight to do things that are going to be detrimental to our kids, their behavior or the schedules we've worked so hard for. And it doesn't stop with older family members.
Those in a Different Place in Life
It seems as though everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon. I feel like even at church, jobs, get-togethers, or any other institution where large numbers of people gather, there's absolutely no respect, understanding, or effort when it comes to young families. We were pressured to do many things we didn't desire, like leaving our kids in the hands of strangers, feeding our kids foods we didn't approve of, or that would hurt our children, allowing them to participate in activities that we didn't approve of.
My kids were touched, hugged, kissed, and grabbed by many a stranger without our or their permission. We were asked all sorts of inappropriate questions in regards to the number of children we had or other parenting decisions we made. At one point, when my first son was born, and even when we discovered that our second was a boy, we heard "Oh, I'm so sorry. I guess you can try for a girl next time."
Is it just me, or are young families the most misunderstood part of the population? People seem to lose their minds, instead of seeing the stress and sleeplessness and helping.
If I could ask one thing, being at this delicate stage in life, where I'm simply trying to survive, thrive, and keep my kids alive, it would be for some understanding. I just don't think the same rules apply for families with small kids, as they do for the rest of the world. We are not going to be able to do any of the same things we could, with the same ease or efficiency, as we did before our children came along.
Our kids are not a burden but a joy (even if a trying kind of joy), and our priorities, decisions, and preferences are going to change drastically specifically to accommodate the needs of these new little individuals in our lives, even if they don't make sense.
If you want to be a part of our lives, be respectful and make sure you are within the boundaries set by the parents when interacting with their kids. All parents are different. Be respectful of the decisions made by the parents of any children. We are all doing our best to make the best decisions for our children, and trying to consider their future success in each one we make for them.
If you want to help, take a healthy dinner over one night. Offer to watch their kids so they can eat, pee, shower, change their clothes, or nap. Offer to help with some chores, or hire someone to clean their house for them. Provide them an option for a date night, as most couples have very little time to themselves much less each other while parenting little ones.
But most of all, even if you do nothing else, be positive, loving, patient, and at the very least, understanding. Parents need your support, not your judgement, criticism or disappointment. This stage in our lives won't last forever.
© 2018 Victoria Van Ness