My husband and I are in Manhattan at the moment visiting my older son, beautiful daughter-in-law, and our precious two and a half year old grandson. The adjectives give me away. I’m a totally besotted parent and grandparent struck by the poignancy of the cycle of life, as I listen to my grandson “read” us Hop on Pop, my son’s favorite book from his childhood.
Yesterday, we had an especially affirming experience—in the elevator no less. My husband and I got on, and a worker was on his knees washing the walls. We made some small talk with him about how hard he was working and how nice the renovated elevator looked.
He seemed pleased, told us he’d been working in the building for 20 years, and was so glad the lobby and elevator were finally getting fixed up. Then he asked us, “Are you the parents from 5-N?”
We told him we were. “I knew it!” he said. “You’re so nice, and your kids… let me tell you, they are the nicest people in the entire building. By far.”
I was ridiculously pleased. My son really is a genuinely kind, good man, and he had the excellent sense to marry someone who is every bit as caring as he is.
I would love to think that my daughter-in-law’s parents and my husband and I simply “passed on” being empathetic, friendly folks through our examples and parenting efforts. And in fact, we were all devoted parents who worked hard to do just that. It would be lovely to think we could take credit!
But as I look around and observe so many caring, devoted parents whose offspring don’t turn out quite the way they’d hoped or expected, I recognize that inserting X (lots of love, good values, guidance) doesn’t necessarily result in Y (children who emerge as loving, caring, “together” adults). There is a lovely woman in my church, for example, who has devoted decades to trying to help her three children. All three have suffered from mental illness and have lived (and died) in tragic circumstances.
Parenting turns out to be the ultimate crap shoot. There are no guarantees, and I’ve come to realize that we have a lot less impact than we’d love to take credit for—or alternatively, be blamed for. Ultimately, all we can do is our best.