No Picnic for Young People, Either

My son walked in the door one evening after the daily commute with his 2-year-old daughter, who attends day care near his job. Their arrival signaled the end of my ten-hour shift, and as I prepared to hand off my 7-month-old grandson, I watched my son shift gears, from tired elementary school teacher to tired dad.

Getting in my car and driving away felt good, in that I was free to go back to my “retiree” life, but this babysitting gig reminds me how hard it is to raise kids. When we’re young we think it’s never going to end, and then when we’re old and it’s over, we wonder where the time went, and I think our perspective gets rosier in the rear view mirror. Maybe too rosy.

The adult kids suffer. They’re sleep-deprived, and they don’t have the sanguine approach to life and career that you earn with age. Everything is harder for them, and in spite of my own problems, if I had to do what they’re doing, it’d kill me. Like the “It Gets Better” campaign, I want my kids and all young parents to know it really will even out. And at the risk of pissing them off, here are some coping strategies I’ve learned over the years that might help them feel less pressure and stress: (UPDATE: I realize these comments might reflect on my son, but he’s a sweetheart and wasn’t the impetus for my thoughts. It’s just memory coming back, from my younger years.)

(SECOND UPDATE: I don’t mean to leave out my DIL. Everything my son is doing, she’s doing too, IN ADDITION TO breastfeeding. So she gets the Ginger Rogers Tip-of-the-Hat award for dancing as well as Fred, but in heels and in reverse).

  • After a long commute, you shuffle in the door after dealing with tailgaters and other assholes, and for about the first ten minutes you’re in no mood for civil conversation. So Bill and I have learned to tell each other, “I’m still on the freeway,” which is code for leave me the hell alone until I have the energy to behave normally again. If you have little kids, focus on them. They’re entertaining. Leave the big stuff for later.
  • You’re more in control of your feelings than you think. If you put on a show for your conscious mind, your subconscious will go along with it. So if somebody asks you, “how was your day?” you answer, “pretty good,” even when you want to say, “IT SUCKED LIKE HELL AND I HATE ALL HUMANITY!!” And not only will your subconscious start to lift your spirits, you won’t have a depressed/pissed off spouse to deal with. (I learned this the hard way, and not until I was about 40.)
  • Correlation to the above: music can and will change your mood, for the better or worse, so choose accordingly.
  • Fatigue and alcohol will get you in arguments in which you believe, at the time, the Authentic You is speaking. But the next morning, when you feel like a jackass, you realize it was the tired or buzzed you. And now look at the mess you have to clean up.
  • Don’t get too hungry. It messes with your head. Have a snack when you start dragging. See Authentic You, above.

Retirees with lots of free time sometimes develop amnesia about What It Feels Like To Work Fulltime and Have No Life. Working people – young or old – must hate hearing us geezers yabber on about finding ourselves, since they barely have time to find a clean pair of socks. So if we forget, and start pondering aloud a need to search for “my true purpose in life” or “finding my passion,” know that you, Young Person, will get your chance. Along with thinning hair and involuntary farting.

What about you, Older Person? Any tips for the kids?


  1. says

    Wonderful post, Lynne! I look back on my single parent years and wonder how I ever managed. By the time I’d pick up my kids after work, we’d all three be at our lowest points- tired ,hungry, grumpy. So hard. Now I see my own daughter repeating the cycle ( only she is not a single parent, thankfully). I love your idea about ” still on the freeway” and Linda’s “PID until 7″! I would say factoring in transition time where there are no or few expectations on one another is necessary. Also , maybe a quick snack to increase blood sugar. My hat is off to all working parents. How fortunate that you & Bill are able to be there for your son and family. I feel the same as I am able to help my daughter. But, I am so happy those days are behind me.

  2. heather says

    Bless you for being the helpful loving grandmother taking care of the 7 month old. I hear you about feeling your son’s exhaustion, having children is not for sissies. I always try to educate young people about being very aware of the responsibility and commitment involved in the rearing of children sans the “i can do so much better than anyone else” fantasy. Even with the best possible loving partner they can find and after they have their education and a decent career under their belt — even then — it is still very hard to work to raise children well, keep a nice home, prepare healthy food, do the laundry, mow the lawn, read a book, exercise etc. It is a 24/7 20 year job. One needs a village of help to raise a child.

    • says

      Heather, 2 things: one, my sweet hubby helps almost every single day, driving over at 6;30 a.m. and hanging out until I say he can go, usually about 11 – noon. So I can’t take all credit, but thanks! And second, my son and DIL are early 30s, both are teachers so have Masters’ degrees in “kids”, and still, it’s damned near impossible. I realize that may be my 58-year-old bones and muscles talking, but jeez, it’s tough! Your points are exactly right. Not for sissies, at all!

  3. says

    Another great post, Lynne. This is a good reminder that the grass is not always greener in someone else’s back yard. I like your points about transitioning for work to home at the end of the day–I needed to be reminded after a week like the one I just had. My husband and I have a code too: PID. It stands for “pretend I’m dead” as in “PID until 7:00″ which means I need to be left alone for a period of time. I used it a lot while I was writing my book.

    As for the thinning hair and I voluntary farting….well, ’nuff said.

  4. says

    At 35 I was teaching in Madrid. Traveling in Europe, took a train to the coast then a ferry to Morocco and another train to Marakesh. My 9 year old son and soon-to-be second husband were with me. Yeah, I did plenty of stupid things before and after, but 35 was a good year.

  5. says

    Good advice Lynne. Love your code, “still on the freeway” only over here we say still on the autoroute. Parenting AND teaching are 2 of the most exhausting jobs, but also the most fulfilling. Bon Courage to your son! He is so lucky you live near enough to help out.

    • says

      Pat: and my DIL! I think when you’re still nursing, there has to be a special layer of difficulty – not only finding time to pump while working (and thereby being isolated from coworkers during that all-too-brief social time) but also the nutritional depletion (not to mention not being able to have a glass of wine for over a year.)

  6. says

    What a nice shout-out to our grown children, all of us, who are parents to young ones. Practical but profound. I like the “I’m still on the freeway,” signal. That would still work well for my husband and I – and we’re empty nesters. Important to still be kind and thoughtful to each other. I loved those years with kids at home. Exhausting? yes. But I’ve been glad now that they’re grown and gone that I enjoyed and appreciated it while it was happening. So I guess that would be my advice too – stay with the now of it. It changes quickly.

    • says

      Not quickly enough, Barbara. Just kidding. (This morning it’s taking both of us to handle our teething grandbaby!) But I see my son and DIL working fulltime and raising these 2 babies, and even tho Bill and I help, it’s still amazingly hard. I don’t know how they keep from getting overwhelmed. Snapshot: son coming home with groceries after working all day with a bad cold coming on. And DIL is working fulltime (30 kids in her 1st grade class) and still breastfeeding.

  7. Nanci says

    I think I would tell any young person to work only as long and hard as it takes to do a good job. Americans work themselves to death ( me included in my working days). I think it was Anna Quindlen who said , “Your work is not your life. Your life is your life.” Simple, yet profound.

    • says

      That’s quite profound, coming from you, Nanci, because you did work that hard, and also, you’re not of the typical demographic about which it is said, “they don’t believe in working hard.” Wise, indeed.

  8. says

    You are so right!
    I’ll share this with my two grown daughters who are moms of babies and struggle to get through some endless days. Watching them brings back memories of my time with 2 little ones. If we knew how hard it would be, would we do it again? I would.

  9. says

    Marion, I used to listen to that funereal new age music that gives you a weird existential gloom, and think the feelings were authentic. Now in the morning I listen to light jazz (buoyant but not bouncy). Music is a cool tool for changing your chemistry.

  10. says

    Have enjoyed reading this very much, Lynn!
    I’m still in the working full time-mode, but my sons are grown-up and can take care of themselves. No grandchildren yet.
    Number 1 and 3 especially call out to me. On my way home from work I start out stressed and filled with work-questions. And the longer I drive – and SING with the CD of choice of that day – the more relaxed I become and the better I feel. By the time arrive home, all work worries have dimmed until the next day.
    My partner arrives home one hour after me (on the days that we’re together) and then a big hug clears the last stress.

  11. says

    Great article Lynn and so true. Your point number 2 is similar to the advice I’ve always given my kids and which they have yet to take. When you feel like crap, look at yourself in the mirror and smile (with both your mouth and your eyes) until you start to believe it. I look at my boys now and the difficulties they have finding decent jobs with, hopefully decent pay and some benefits, and I realize how easy it was for me at that age. As I’m off “finding myself in France” those two are in the trenches. So glad I’m not there anymore. I prefer the thickening hair on my chin and the involuntary farting!

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