My children are not little. My youngest is 14 and my oldest is 30-something. The three youngest of my offspring love to carry on lively conversations with me. Part of the joy for them is finding some way to insult me without me noticing. While occasionally they might get away with this, most of the time I call them on it. A great example was just this week when my 14- and 20-year-olds were traveling with me to do some shopping. A song came on the radio that we guessed was from the early 80s. I tried to guess who the artist might be but I was wrong (I had never even heard of the group). A conversation began as to what I did and did not know about 80s popular culture. My 20-year-old, who spends entirely too much time on the computer watching what I jokingly call “stupid YouTube videos,” got a bit condescending with me when he started spouting 80s pop-culture speak, taking delight in the fact that he was the only person in the car who had any idea what he was talking about. I was laughing, accusing him of living in “Internet Meme World” when he said something about my failure to live in the real world. The mood in the car suddenly changed.
Those were fighting words. I thought for a full second before responding: In the 80s I was very much living in the real world of single parenting, working full-time, taking occasional classes, growing a vegetable garden, teaching my oldest son how to read and write (after the schools had failed after three years), finding Jesus, learning about how very dysfunctional people who find Jesus can be, reading the Bible on my own for the first time in my life and understanding it, learning about American History and politics, creating beautiful container gardens, experiencing sexual harassment, losing a friend to violence (she was brutally murdered), starting and failing at my own business, having my car totaled in a serious accident, continuing to raise my son by myself with no child support . . . the list of real world activities went on and on and on. I compared my real-life 1980s experiences to his 80s experience via a computer, the internet and YouTube videos.
There was silence. There was respect. There was a brief discussion on how popular culture can be perceived as reality when it is merely a system of marketing ploys to get people to buy products, experiences and lifestyles.
I do not try to silence my children habitually. I love a lively discussion and appreciate intellectually-stimulating debate on a variety of subjects; they can call me on my bullshit and I can call them on theirs. I especially love it when my kids need to teach me something they know that I don’t. I am especially proud of them in those moments. But on occasion I will let them know how I feel about something serious, without hesitation. This was definitely one of those teachable moments.
As parents, we too often try to shelter our children from the traumas that we experienced. We want them to have better lives. If we fail to share our experiences with them, if we forget how hard life was before they came along, or the early difficulties of young parenthood, we do them a disfavor. The fact that they watch R-rated movies, can see almost anything on YouTube, or play video games rated “M” does not mean that they understand the consequences of violence or hardship or difficulty.
I am glad that we had that awkward conversation in the car the other day. It was probably the first time that these two kids of mine heard much of anything about my life before they became the center of it, before life became easier before it became very difficult again. And now they see mostly the difficulties even while living in their fairly sheltered worlds.
Before this song came on the radio and we got distracted by the silliness of 80s pop culture, we had been discussing the difficulties a 16-year-old female transsexual prisoner faced in a Connecticut adult correctional institution. Yep, I love conversations with my kids.