"Mom? Why do parents get to do all the fun stuff?"
I glanced in the rearview mirror at my daughter.
"What do you mean? What fun stuff?"
"You know, like staying up late, being on the computer whenever they want, having their own phones, making rules..."
I chuckled. "Well, sweetheart, it's because I'm an adult and you're a kid, and kids don't have the same rights as adults. I had to follow the rules when I was a kid, and then I became an adult, and being an adult is awesome. You're dealing with it now because you're a kid, but one day you'll be a grown-up and you'll love it, too."
She scowled. "It's not fair."
"Nope," I said, "But it's right."
It may not be a popular opinion, but I am of the school that feels very OK with children not having the same rights as their parents for no other reason than that they are children and we are not. I have no problem saying, "Because I said so." I don't feel like I owe my kids an explanation for all my decisions, and, what's more, I don't feel bad about the things I get to do that they don't and have no problem sharing that with them.
Some parents think that childhood is magical and should be treasured. They tell their kids to enjoy this time because it's special. They feel that since they are role models to their kids, they will be careful not to take advantage of anything that their child is not yet allowed. They consider their childhood years to be among the best of their lives and yearn for the freedom from adult responsibilities and pressures that they had back then.
As far as I'm concerned, childhood can go eat a bag of dicks. I didn't truly enjoy life until I went to college, and I consider my adulthood to be vastly superior to anything I experienced before the age of 18. That's not because I had an abusive childhood or that my parents didn't love me; that's just because, when weighed against each other, being a kid is way worse than being a grown-up. But one thing my mother always told me while I was growing up was that there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and this light involved a driver's license, a job, and my own apartment.
After some particularly humiliating and painful experiences when I was a child (I'll take 'Peeing My Pants on the Tire Swing for $200, Alex), my mother used to say, "Childhood is terrible. Learning how to live in this life is awful. But after you grow up it gets so much better." Far from filling me with doom and gloom about what was to come during the next ten years of my life, that message always gave me hope. I wasn't wrong for hating this time in my life — here was my mother, a woman who knew everything, agreeing with me that it was terrible. She made me believe that this pain was temporary and that I had a future to look forward to.
I love the freedoms that come with adulthood. I am psyched beyond measure that I no longer have to go to school. I am thrilled to be done with the trials and tribulations of the teen years. And I am not afraid to tell my kids that.
I'm also not afraid to use the almighty power of adulthood to explain why I get to do certain things that seem hypocritical according to the rules of our house. For example, when they ask me why I get to be on my computer when their computer time is up for the day, I say, "A) Because I'm working. B) Because I'm a grown-up and you're not. I earned the right to a little Candy Crush — I mean, article on homing pigeons."
But this isn't about throwing my advantages in their faces or about being a bad role model. Childhood is difficult, and my kids are going to spend more time as adults than as children: I want them to look forward to it. So when my daughter says she hates school, I say, "I know. It's the worst. But you've got to do it." When she says she wishes math was never created, I say, "I'm with you. And it only gets more useless as you get older. Just wait for algebra!" And when she says she's jealous of the things I get to do that she doesn't I say, "I know, right? Just hang in there for another ten years, and then you'll get your taste of the good life."
I have chosen to respond to the miseries my children experience while growing up with empathy and perspective. I commiserate with them rather than insisting that their feelings are wrong and telling them they should be happy. But I also remind them that nothing lasts forever. I tell them that childhood is like boot camp — it's a kind of foundational learning that everyone has to go through even though no one likes it. While there are some aspects of childhood boot camp that I remember fondly (increased cardio capacity, having meals and housing provided, the thick skin that comes with having your spirit broken), I want my kids to know that there's nothing unusual about disliking "the wonder years," and that the best is yet to come.
And one day, if they work hard enough, they'll get to watch The Walking Dead at midnight while eating Girl Scout Cookies too. It's called living the dream, kids. You'll get here.
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