In recent years, there has been much talk of privilege. Namely, white privilege. I’m of European descent and my skin tone proclaims that loud and clear. Over the last two years, I’ve been accosted, unprovoked, by strangers on the street. I’ve been called mayonnaise monkey, lima bean, and cracka, which are apparently derogatory names for white people. A drunken bridesmaid’s party has demanded reparations for the wrongdoings of my ancestors. If these people had read books of world colonization, they would know that it was primarily native people that enslaved and sold other blacks to white colonizers. This is not to condone the mistakes of our ancestors. It’s just that the history is far more nuanced than most people realize, and I find the willful ignorance a bit frustrating.
Over the last several months, I’ve been thinking a lot about where we, as a species and as a society have come from. I’m deeply saddened by the divisiveness and the politicization of damn-near everything. I’ve lost friends, family members, and a sense of belonging in online communities because I’m interested in going beyond the surface-level talking points and exploring ideas in a deeper, more critical manner. It seems that, lately, people just want the hot take popularized by their preferred media outlet or personality. So, I’ve taken the dialogue internal.
I grew up in a low-to-middle class family in a tiny town surrounded by farmland. My mom worked at my daycare, so she could earn money while watching me. Birthday parties were hold at home with up to three friends, craft activities, and a homemade cake. Our vacations were weekend camping trips with a church group. My parents cut back on retirement and spent hundreds of hours applying to scholarships to send their three children to Catholic school. We had safety, security, and stability. We didn’t have much, but we had more than enough.
I have been realizing lately that having great parents is the greatest privilege. Nobody talks about this. I have benefited more in life from having loving and supportive parents than I could from money, skin color, or any other demographic. My parents showed me unconditional love. They disciplined me when I needed it. They lifted me up when I was down. They taught me life skills. They instilled the values of delayed gratification and long term planning. They listened attentively to my childish stories, plans, and big dreams for adulthood. They insisted that we dinner together as a family every night. When my parents where both unemployed in the midst of the recession, they made sacrifices to continue to support our extracurricular activities. They ensured I always had a roof over my head, food on my plate, and soft place to land. Now an adult myself, they are still there to catch me if I fall.
The support of a loving family beats any other ‘privilege’. There is no debate. Having a peaceful childhood is the most wonderful gift we could ever offer or receive. I’m so much better off than most of the people I know who had rich parents, and for that I am truly grateful.
All of the greatest achievements in humanity are possible because of passing knowledge down from prior generations. In this day and age, I imagine that being a great parent is hard due to all the distractions–work emails, social media, and just trying to unwind after a long day. I admire the parents who actively and daily set aside their phones for a period of time, so their kids can be the center of attention.
My partner and I are hoping to start a family in the next few years. We love talking about all the values, heuristics, and skills we’ve picked up over the course of our lives that we’ll be able to pass on to the next generation. We’re excited nurture a young person to maturity, whether our own or our friends’ children, and watch them thrive and accomplish more than we ever have.
I no longer care if someone looks at my skin color and makes assumptions about the benefits I’ve reaped in life. It’s no use arguing with people who think they know best.
I will acknowledge that I have benefited tremendously from the “Great Parents Privilege.” My parents and the generations preceding them made countless sacrifices of their time, money, and energy to give their kids the best possible life. That is a gift that not everyone receives. It is a gift that is becoming rarer as parents’ attention is stolen by the constant rush of media input. And it’s sad because it’s the children that will suffer, not the parents.
On the flip-side, this is a opportunity for those who feel they are at a disadvantage to turn the table. Start a family, volunteer to mentor an at-risk youth, and spend time with the little people in your life. Encourage the people around you to do the same. Surround the children with love, support, and attention. Teach them humility, respect, and valuable life skills. Play the long game and help shape the future.
Yes, our historical predecessors made mistakes, whether or not they recognized them as such at the time. Today, leave that narrative behind and start anew. Having great parents is the greatest privilege. Be a great mom, dad, auntie, uncle, sister, brother, teacher, pastor, or friend. Be a beacon of light for the youngsters because it matters, and it matters more than we realize.