From the moment that we first pondered having children through the day that those children bear our grandchildren, we stand apart from parents throughout the rest of human history in our good fortune. While I love complaining about parenting as much as the next mom, I think there is value in stepping back for a moment, adjusting our lens and taking a more objective look at the hand that life has dealt us.
I know all too well that many parents are faced with truly challenging situations and that life can be a daily and even hourly struggle.
Yet, I also know that as we sit here in the earliest years of the 21st century, no parents have ever had it better. We may reminisce about our childhood when kids played outside all day and high school students had a mere half hour of homework a night. We may wish college admissions were simpler or that the job market for our kids was kinder. But make no mistake, there has never been a better time to be a parent.
1. For centuries men and women prayed to the fertility gods and now we visit our doctors. So many of us know and love children who were born because medical science found a way to create babies when nature let us down.
2. Our children will never have many of the diseases that made us sick as children and could have cost our lives. At the beginning of the 20th century, 10% of all children in America died before their first birthday and in many cities the rate was as high as 30%.
3. During the 20th century life expectancy rose from 47 to 76 years. My chance of meeting my grandchildren has never been better. My mother’s chance of meeting my grandchildren is unmatched in history.
4. Many of our children have spent more time with their fathers than any previous generation. It is our children’s great fortune, as well as ours, that they were born into a society and a time that highly values the father-child relationships.
5. I am the mother of three draft-age sons and there is not a time in history when I had less reason to worry that I would lose them in battle. Yes, there are men and women sacrificing everything for our country and we owe them far more than just gratitude. But, despite the news, we are living in a time of great peace and our sons or daughters are less likely to experience war. And even as civilians we are less likely to be injured or killed from the collateral damage of war.
(This video explains where we sit in the history of warfare. It is the closest thing to genius I have ever seen on Facebook and I don’t say this lightly. In the course of 18 riveting minutes the narrator walks us through the history of armed conflict focusing on the high price humanity has paid).
6. Our kids talk to us more, see us more and confide in us more readily. Our politics, lifestyles and music diverge far less. As a generation we just along with our kids better.
7. Our children have a far greater likelihood of seeing the world, either in real life or on their computer screens. Until now, if we didn’t travel, books and a few movies showed us the world. Now the technological window has been thrown wide open.
8. Whoever our children are, whatever their interests, they are more likely than ever to find others like them, those who share their preferences, their beliefs or their interests.
9. When our kids go to find partners or spouses, the pool of people who they can meet has grown astronomically and they have heard the message to look for love.
10. We can stay close even when we are not close. My son has just gone to study abroad for the summer and every day he shares his thoughts and observations through a quick text. When I was his age I was in Sierra Leone for months with no communication at all with my family. That experience changed me forever and, until it was all over, I did not share more than an airmail letter’s worth of it with my family.
11. As parents we are often astounded by the poor judgement that our teens can at times display. Some of their mistakes are the result of inexperience (just ask your car insurance salesperson) and some from risk seeking or poor impulse control. And as frightening as this can be, our kids are simply safer than we were. They drink and drive far less, use illicit drugs less and are less likely to become parents while they are still teens. If they do crash the car they are surrounded by airbags and if we crash the car they are more likely to be strapped into their seats.
12. As a generation, our kids will have more college degrees and the greater job stability and opportunity that comes with this. Yes, the job market can be tough for the young, but the unemployment rate for the college educated is a mere 2.5%. At another time in history our kids would have been working full-time from a very early age.
13. The U.S. is a safer, less violent place for our kids than it was when we were their age.
14. Our children’s creative options have never been greater. At 10, they can learn to code. At 15, they can publish books. By 23 they can start companies that could be worth millions. The possibilities are so great it is enough to make you want to be your own kids.
Does knowing that there has never been a better time to be a parent stop me from worrying? Of course not. I could fret professionally. But for a moment when I look beyond our age, when I look at raising kids today versus even the 20th century or the entire sweep of human history, I know that we are the luckiest parents ever.
Am I going to stop complaining about my kids, about the dishes in the sink, the laundry on the floor, the empty gas tank when they have borrowed my car? Of course not. But every so often in the still of the night I will give thanks to whoever it was that let me be a mother in the very best of times.