Am I a better parent?
I guess I believed with each generation we gain more experience and education. Learning from our collective past is supposed to be an evolutionary advantage of our species. This I hope has lead me to a deeper and more enlightened parenting style. I can dream. I hear stories from my Mom how she was treated as a child and how my Gram was treated and how my Great grandmother sacrificed all for her son’s future and I wonder am I doing the best I can?
When my Mom was growing up she dreamed of college and being more. My Gram worked hard and raised my Mom to have confidence and educated her at good private schools for elementary and high school. When it came time for my Mom to go to college she was accepted into a wonderful Catholic College called Mundelein in Chicago. She worked hard for a years to afford the tuition and put every cent she made into a savings account. Being the trusting daughter and needing a second name on the account she placed her mother’s name on her account. She was filled with hope and promise for her bright future. She heard stories from her Grandmother Anna of how Anna had been hand picked by a local doctor to be a nurse but her parents pulled her out of school and said that she was needed to be the cook for all the farm hands and the family. Anna’s hopes of a less subservient life were dashed and she never graduated from High School and was trapped. She instilled in my mother the desire to educate one’s self.
When the time came to enroll for classes, she filled out the forms and quit her position at the Johnson and Johnson factory where she measured the circumferences of cotton balls monitoring quality control and the machines. This must have been a mind-numbing task. First day of classes rolled around and she got her text books, paid the first installment of the tuition with her hard earned saving and set off for a new path and a bright future. Classes exceeded her hopes. New doors were being opened everyday for this blue-collar working class woman. She would not only be the first woman to graduate from High School but the first woman to graduate from College. All the new ideas and knowledge not only fed her mind but her soul. She loved learning and still does. After the first month, the second installment of her tuition was due. She went to the bank to get the money and was horrified by the sight of her account balance. Apparently her mother went to the bank and cleaned out the account except for a measly 10 dollars required to keep the account open. Panic filled her heart. How was she going to pay for school and how could her mother do this?
Scared and confused she retuned home and confronted her mother with the passbook. My Gram a good woman on many levels but a selfish small person on more, responded with indignation. “Why are you angry? You live in this house rent-free, eat my food and have for 18 years. It is only fair you contribute. I needed the money and my name was on the account.” My Mother was shocked and dumbstruck by the cold calculation dash to her dreams of a better future. Then the final blow which still stings her today, my Gram delivered the final stake in her heart, “You are probably going to just get married and have kids and stay home anyway, what do you need a college education for? What!?! You think you are better than me?”
My Mother was wounded beyond belief. Not only did her mother not believe in her enough to ask her for the money, which she would have given open heart if it was needed, but her Mother was in competition with her and thought by educating her daughter beyond her, she would somehow disintegrate her own self worth. It was a devastating blow to my mother who continued to attend classes until the administration had to pull her out of one of her classes and ask her to leave since she could no longer afford the tuition. I asked my Mother why she did not explain it to the monks and ask for assistance, she told me she was too embarrassed by her poverty and betrayal of her mother.
My Mother did after some hard work and odd jobs and transfer to 2 more colleges manage to get her bachelors degree and become a teacher. Yes, she did get married and stay home to have 6 kids and raise us all to become productive members of society but most importantly she taught all of us that an education is a valuable asset to have and no matter what the road blocks. She instilled the desire to fight for your dream. They may betray you, leave you, take your job/money and your house but no one can ever remove a good education from your heart and soul.
This story haunts me as a parent and I use this lesson and story sometimes to my own detriment. I may sacrifice a bit of my own self for the hopes and dreams of my children but in a completely stage mom way I love watching both of them soar higher and shine brighter than I ever could.