Our kids are more privileged than my husband and I ever were while we were growing up. We didn't have as many toys, as many adventures, and as much time with our parents as our kids do now. Like most millennial parents, my husband and I are giving our kids things we never had because, although our parents did the best they could, we plan on doing even better. That's the point, right? Progress? To give your kids the opportunities you never had?
I came to this country when I was 11 years old. We came with nothing and my parents worked tirelessly for everything. We slept on donated mattresses, ate off tableware we found at yard sales, and once had to toss a rug because it was infested with fleas. I never felt deprived, though. I didn't realize we were poor, although we lived in a one bedroom apartment and wore clothes and ate food provided to us by the local Jewish Community Center (JCC). I still had a great childhood and I loved and appreciated my parents and everything they worked for.
Sure, sometimes I wanted the new roller skates everyone else had and I wished for a nice haircut by a professional rather than my dad (who, well, had no business cutting hair), but I knew I couldn't have everything everyone else had, so it was fine. And at 14, I started working and bought my own clothes and my own shoes.
Only looking back now do I realize what it meant to live in poverty. It meant I didn't get opportunities. It meant I didn't get attention from my parents because they spent every minute working and going to school. It meant my interests and hobbies were not supported nor funded. It meant no one had time to help me with homework or money for a tutor when I didn't understand something. It meant no savings account for college. It meant my brother and I were latchkey kids. It meant no class trips. It meant free school lunches and using public transportation. It meant no Disney World, no vacations, no amusement parks. It meant flying under the radar.
My brother and I didn't need for anything, though. We always had food, shelter, and clothes. Most importantly, we had parents who wanted a better life for us. Our parents worked all day and night just so we could have a life in America. They saved and borrowed and eventually moved into a townhouse in a great school district. I went to prom in a limo. My brother got new roller blades for his birthday. Eventually, my parents worked their way out of poverty and my brother and I never felt the sting.
I married young, straight out of college, had two kids, and have been working relentlessly to give my kids everything I believe they need. My husband and I have persevered through a recession (which truly knocked us on our asses), two layoffs, job instability, living paycheck-to-paycheck, and we have done it all for our kids. Millennials are often criticized, especially millennial parents, but it doesn't take long to realize that our generation is working hard to provide our kids with better. We're busting ass and making sacrifices so our children get the things we never had, like the following:
My parents did the best they could do with the free time they had, but my brother and I didn't get a ton of attention from them. Sure, they noticed poor grades and we'd get in trouble, but they never showed up to parent-teacher conferences. They'd drive us to the movies or to the mall, but they didn't stay.
Our kids get our attention. We take them to parks, we have picnics in our back yard, we have dinner as a family every single night, and we talk to them about their day. We ride bikes together, we go to festivals, and we attend community events. Our kids get a lot of attention and we wouldn't have it any other way, even if it is super exhausting sometimes.
When I was a young girl, I loved science. My uncle gifted me an anatomy book and I practically inhaled its contents. My grandmother has a PhD in Chemistry and my uncle has a PhD in Biochemistry, so science kind of runs in my blood. When we immigrated to the United States, however, the language barrier made it difficult for me to understand many of the scientific concepts that didn't directly translate. Trying to do science homework with a dictionary by my side proved to be more strenuous than I had imagined. By the time I was in middle school, I had completely neglected science because I did not understand most of it, no one had time to help me, and there was no money for a tutor. So, I decided science wasn't for me and that was that.
My daughter also loves science and engineering, and I am determined to foster that interest. Not in the Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (which everyone, everyone should read) way, but in a healthy, gentle way. This summer, for example, my daughter attended a weekly, specialized-enrichment camps offered by the local community college. At her request, we signed her up for "Hands On Science: Physics and Engineering," "Think, Solve, Create," "Lego Animation," and "Engineering With K'Nex." Last summer we visited The Maryland Science Center and this summer we went to Franklin Institute's "Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day." For the past two summers, we've gone to the Philadelphia Science Festival. As long as she keeps expressing interest in science and engineering, I will keep signing her up for whatever I can.
As I mentioned earlier, my brother and I were often on our own. We had minimal supervision and we did whatever we wanted to do. Sure, our parents guided from afar, but they were usually too busy to directly supervise us. My dad worked non-stop and my mom went to school and worked. So, we were mostly left to our own devices.
Our children, however, are plenty supervised, and while my husband and I take the lighthouse approach to parenting, we are still watching our children and making sure they aren't getting themselves into too much trouble. We are around enough to know what they are up to. They are never home on their own (although they are young) and are almost always supervised by someone.
When I was growing up, there wasn't a huge push for girl power. While the Spice Girls threw up peace signs and encouraged girl power, it seemed much more of a pop-cultural fad than anything truly real. I watched my heroine, Sarah Michelle Gellar, kick some vampire butt on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and I listened to Shirley Manson, Alanis Morissette, and Fiona Apple defy pop-culture's stereotypes of women. Every time I'd listen to a rock song I'd feel a sense of empowerment, but overall, girls were still seen as weaker, meeker, and emotional. You know, "just girls."
I do everything in my power to make sure my daughter knows she is a worthy human and grows up to be an empowered young woman. When she told me that "boys are better at sports," I took her with me to my gym where she watched women flip tires and press kettle bells and do push ups and pull ups. When she mentioned a boy in her class said girls are stupid, I bought her Andrea Beaty's Rosie Revere, Engineer and taught her about some of the smartest, most innovative women in our history and today. Her princess costumes are mixed in with her superhero costumers. She's seen Wonder Woman. We will continue to remind her she is the best human, the strongest girl, and a powerful individual.
If there is an event that we think our children would love, we are there. Truck and car shows, challah bakes, berry and fruit picking, fall festivals, hayrides, holiday light shows, summer festivals, petting zoos — you name it and we'll come running. We want our kids to experience everything there is to experience. We want them to meet different people, to learn about diverse cultures, to fall in love with the seasons, and to appreciate their surroundings. We want them to know life is full of wonder and magic and that you don't have to travel far to find it.
While we still can't afford vacations, or Disney World, or mini-getaways, or to travel the world, we do the best we can locally and we hope one day, we can give our kids more of those types of experiences as well.
My husband and I never attended summer camp. Instead, we just played with the neighborhood kids. Our daughter has been in summer camp every summer for the past three years, though.
My daughter goes to art classes, dance classes, and after school clubs. She used to take swimming, piano, and go to jiu jitsu. My son plays soccer in his daycare and as soon as he is a little older, he'll be doing a lot more. We are constantly looking for activities our children would like. This coming fall we intend to sign up our son for swimming and soccer and our daughter to gymnastics or the local American Ninja Warrior for kids. All of these activities cost money and require a lot of time, neither things our parents had when we were kids.
Time is precious and fleeting. Us parents are always told to enjoy our kids because time flies, and it's true. I swear my daughter was born just yesterday. It feels like a few hours ago I was cradling her in my arms and rocking her t sleep. Now she's rolling her eyes behind my back and listening to Katy Perry. It feels like my son just took his first steps, but now he's riding his tricycle at heart-clenching speeds through our neighborhood. So, time does fly. Fast.
My husband and I both work full-time, but when we are home and while the kids are awake, we do our best to give them our attention. Even if we are exhausted, we make sure to hang out with them until they are in bed. Because you can give your kids as many things as you want, but time does not wait.
Our parents did care about our opinions, but we were often dismissed by our parents as well. So my partner and I involve our children in almost everything we do (for better or for worse). We include them in our discussions about the world, politics, news, and people. We make sure they observe us and learn from us. We take them with us on errands, to dinner at our friends', and sometimes to our places of work. We give them choices for what they wear and the activities they want to participate in. We are definitely child-centric, but we wouldn't want to change that. We want our children to know their opinions matter, as long as their opinions are supported by reason. We want them to know their voices are strong and meaningful and they can change whatever it is they don't like about their situation by speaking out and taking action. We include them, we listen to them, and we guide them.
So even if we didn't have as much as our kids do now, we know our parents also did everything for us and more than their parents did for them, and that is a cycle we hope will continue for generations to come.