My parents ruled by apathy


“This town – it just wasn’t a great place to grow up,” I told my friend. It was around our high school graduation, and we had known each other since I moved to town when I was ten. She had lived there all her life, and she nodded in agreement.

“Hey!” my mother said from across the kitchen counter. I hadn’t meant for her to hear, but she had, and she had personally taken offense, albeit in passing, to my comment.

Maybe my parents thought the city was a good place to grow up when they moved me there. They had been renting a house from my grandparents since I was a baby and couldn’t wait to buy one, but there was no way they could afford one in the wealthy suburban town we lived in. . at the time.

Perhaps they had done a lot of research, considered and balanced their options, and considered the pros and cons before settling on this particular city.

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Probably not, however.

Probably they had chosen the house they liked best and could afford, and they were sure everything else would work out.

The truth is, it wasn’t – not for me, and after so many years they still couldn’t see it.

A state of denial

I immediately fell into the wrong crowd, and no one in a position to make an impact seemed to notice or care. I had been exposed far too early to sex, tobacco and drugs. The only indicators of my well-being that anyone ever considered were my IQ and my grades, and since I was at the top of my class, it was assumed that I was doing just fine, although it definitely wasn’t. the case.

And this is a summary of my parents’ parenting approach, as with most things: you can create the desired outcome if you ignore the bad stuff enough. They maintained a state of blissful ignorance throughout my childhood. Even when they were forced to confront something head-on, the problem was forgotten almost as quickly as it had materialized.

Like when they found my disturbing college journal entries. Or when they realized I smoked cigarettes at 12. Or when they received a disturbing phone call alleging an inappropriate relationship. Or even when they found out I was pregnant at 14.

The worst could happen, and it would never be recognized again.

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You could say my parents were living in the moment before it was cool to do that. They were stoners before everyone else was stoners. They smoked, drank and watched TV all night after work and most of the weekend. They didn’t make a habit of taking me anywhere else or doing things with me.

My playmates were my dogs and my imaginary family, the ones I pretended to be part of in my bedroom at night before going to sleep. I played board games by myself, I learned to braid my hair because otherwise it wouldn’t happen. One of my favorite and most used gifts as a kid was a book called Card Games for One.

It was like they got me and then forgot about me like they didn’t have the energy or the inclination to lift me up.

The result is that I was largely left to my own devices. And, as you can probably guess from my increasingly disturbing behavior as a young girl, I haven’t done a very good job of it.

Facing the truth, even when it’s hard

I have kids of my own now, and I’ve taken quite a different approach than my parents. I think I would sum up my parenting philosophy by saying that I want to be present with my children.

I’m not a stoner like my parents were, and I can’t fall for the asshole because we don’t have an easily accessible television. But I deal with my fair share of distractions in any given day.

My work, for me, is the kind that I never really disconnect from. There is always something more to do, more words to write, more ideas to jot down before you forget. Household chores are also ubiquitous. The amount of churning we have in our home is staggering, from dishes and wrappers to art supplies and clothing.

And then, of course, there’s my smartphone, which is often by my side if not glued to my face. Not to mention the constant stream of verbal diarrhea that comes from my daughters all the time.

What is essential for me, however, is how I treat my children in the midst of all this constant noise.

The answer, to put it simply, is: I listen.

I pay attention.

And that is not easy.

My children do and say about 31 million things in any given day.

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Most of the time it’s normal kid stuff – talking about an upcoming birthday, coloring a page in their new coloring book, teaching the dog to stand on its hind legs. But every once in a while, something extraordinary happens.

Like today, when we picked up my children’s school supplies from the building they hadn’t been in for three months, and my eight-year-old son suddenly fell silent in the back seat. Or the times my six-year-old shakes her fist at us when she doesn’t like something we’ve said. Or when one of them told me that her friend came to class crying because her parents had a fight that morning.

It’s impossible to engage with – or even process – all the things that go on within a busy family on any given day.

My job, however, my commitment as a parent, is to be mindful.

To cut through the noise and engage with the things that will make a difference.

Understanding the silence in the backseat means my daughter is feeling sad about how the school year ended and needs a hug and a shout about it. To deal with his sister’s petty aggression so that it doesn’t turn into something bigger. To sympathize with their friend and check if her mother is okay.

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I’m not perfect at that. There are things that I purposely let slip because I can’t handle them right now. For all that I catch of the 31 million, I’m sure I’m missing ten or a hundred or more.

But, even in my imperfection, it is clear to them that I am trying. Sometimes that means putting my laptop to the side or rinsing the dishwater off my hands, staring my kids in the face, and really engaging with them. Sometimes that means overcoming my inertia and getting out of the house to take them somewhere, even when I have deadlines and heaps of work to do.

Always, that means showing my kids that I care about what they do, how they feel, and what the world is like for them.

Because my only wish for my childhood is that my parents did the same for me.

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Nikki Kay writes fiction, poetry, personal essays on parenting, mental health, and the intersection of the two. Check out his column on Invisible Illness.

This article originally appeared on Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.


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