When Parenting Becomes a First World Problem
I started my life in extreme poverty. I lived in the then shantytown of La Perla in Puerto Rico, complete with a tin roof and dirt floors. My mother moved back there after my birth in Brooklyn, and it is where I remained until I was 5.
Despite being so young at the time, I have many fond memories of my childhood there. My mother often left us with an elderly woman who lived deep in the country and I loved that showers consisted of the rainwater that fell through the drain trailing on the side of her small wooden hut. I loved that she and I slept in one small mosquito net covered bed, and she would spoon me and hum songs till I fell asleep. My biggest fear was the outhouse at night, because it was so dark but I don’t recall being afraid of anything else.
My absolute, happiest memories were the times my mother would let me wander the beach to pick up sea shells. La Perla is located on the rocky coastline of San Juan. Our home was steps away from the edge where land ended and the deep ocean began. The waves that crushed the coastal line hit hard and fast and letting the white mist hit my face was my favorite past time.
I walked these slippery, urchin filled, rocky coast often in search of treasures. I was 4 and if my mother was ever with me, I don’t recall ever seeing her around.
The thought of this might send chills down the spine of other mothers. It would probably get my mother in some sort of trouble or even thrust her into the news as being neglectful or having endangered me. But the truth is, my mother cared for me and provided me with all of the love and necessities I needed. Despite our severe poverty, I don’t recall ever being hungry, and most importantly, I remember being happy.
The freedom I was allowed as a young child helped create the curious, adventurous spirit I have today. It is why I do what I do professionally. There is really not a lot I wouldn’t do or try, and even when I am afraid, I still go for it. I give credit to the fact that my early childhood wasn’t influenced by the pressures on parenting which is often experienced in better-off, First World societies.
There are families all over the world, and even in this country, who don’t have the resources to purchase half the things that studies and other parenting guides say a “good parent” should have. Most mothers co-sleep with their babies, not because it’s trendy and avant-guard, but because they don’t live in a home with multiple rooms or multiple beds. Most mothers breastfeed, not because it’s what studies say they should do, but because they have no other means to feed their children. Most families don’t have car seats, or strollers, or an infinite library of parenting literature or money for mommy and me time. These “parenting techniques” are not trendy or new – they are how women have raised children for centuries, passed down from generation to generation, many times because they are the only way they could continue to provide what they needed for the rest of their family in the process.
Some parents raise their kids solely on instinct - raw natural instinct. Some mothers have to let their kids ride the train alone, or walk home from school by themselves. Some mothers have to feed their kids mushed version of whatever every one else is having for dinner. Some parents have to sit with their kids on their lap when in a car, or off a seatbelt. Some mothers have to carry their child everywhere, including the fields where they work and some parents let their kids play in the front yard, and venture into the back yard forest, and walk on the rocky coast of their shantytown.
We give our kids so much, but really they don’t need it, not really. I think of Pete Kaser, the Preschool teacher who took away all the toys from his classroom and replaced them with cardboard boxes. He didn’t announce it to the kids. He just replaced...and waited. The reaction was incredible.
When I listen to parents complain and worry about what they can or can’t give or do with their kids, I can’t help but roll my eyes at the silliness and irrelevance of it all.
At some point, we as parents have to put the books down, let go of the latest statistical data, and just be parents and allow our children to be children who learn and fall and have fears and not like a kid in their class and hate vegetables. We have to let them get loud and cry and get lost in stores and talk to strangers to shape them as real, grounded, well-rounded people.
I am nowhere near the level of poverty I grew up in. My children will probably never experience it themselves. But I do want them to experience the freedom and independence I was given as a child. I want them to be driven despite the fear of failing, despite looking back and not always seeing me there, because I won’t always be. And when that happens, I want them to know that they are going to be ok, no matter where they go.