Szyperski: In da clubWritten by Shannon Szyperski | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Barring a few months before my wedding when I stayed with my parents, I’ve been on my own since I was 18. I have nothing against my parents; they just did such a good job raising me to be autonomous that it seemed like the thing to do. I had looked forward to joining the ranks of the adult world for some time and felt capable of doing so.
Having my “Autonomous Adult” card issued to me was more difficult than I had anticipated, however. My assumption that turning 18, working hard and paying my own way in the world would give me sufficient credibility with my fellow grown-ups was far from the truth of the matter. In a culture where many people are living with their parents and working their way through school into their mid- to late 20s and beyond, 18 seems to still be considered childhood regardless of your life’s path.
After nine years in the business, I’ve found that American parenting carries with it the same age-discriminating practices. As I entered motherhood at 27, I figured that my final piece of the grown-up puzzle was in place and that there would be no more denying my access to the Adult Club (no, not that kind of adult club). Considering I was about five years later jumping into the parenting pool than most of the rest of my family, I even considered myself to be of the older parent variety.
Yet, my firstborn wasn’t even walking before I learned the actual hierarchy that tends to exist in parenting circles. Although not all, many a parent older than me quickly gave me the “you’re so young” heave ho before I even had the chance to get to know them. Young? I had already spent almost a decade living as a bona fide adult. I had also been taking care of other people’s kids since adolescence, so I likely had quite a few other parents of all ages beat in the experience department (though I quickly found that child care experience has nothing on actual parenting).
In short, I just didn’t get the age discrimination and still don’t. Even as I nestle into my more veteran parenting position, I consider anyone who is raising a child to be my parenting equal. I don’t care if you have just had your first child at age 45, if you were just featured on MTV’s “Pregnant and 16” or if you are raising someone else’s biological child as your own. As far as I’m concerned, we’re all essentially in the same boat and should be helping one another navigate this thing called parenthood.
For all of those times I have felt like an outsider in my own occupation, there have also been wonderful, accepting individuals who were willing to not only acknowledge my presence in the club but were also more than willing to show me around. Even when I was someone fresh-out-of-school taking care of other people’s children, I found a few kind and enlightening allies who treated me as a peer and gave me advice that I still use to this day with my own children. Just knowing that there were people out there who believed in my capabilities gave me the confidence to build my skill set and become better and better at this whole thing.
As much as we’d like to believe that reading the right parenting books will somehow allow us to master the art of raising children, I have yet to stumble upon one that comes close to paralleling the wisdom and insight that my colleagues offer on a daily basis. I have found that such eye-opening advice has little to do with the adviser’s age or even level of experience. Sometimes, more than anything, it most has to do with finding someone who is also experiencing a kid like mine physically, mentally or emotionally.
Often the most helpful of parenting nuggets comes when I least expect it or from a direction I wasn’t even looking. In fact, the one common denominator in best learning how to parent seems to be just keeping the parent-to-parent connection, of all types, wide open. No discrimination necessary.
Shannon and her husband Michael are raising three children in Sylvania. E-mail her at email@example.com.