When my sister and I were younger and living at home, every once in a while, my dad would get fed up with stuff that had been left lying around and would go on a disposal blitzkrieg. Anything he saw sitting on a counter or table or Buddha forbid–the floor–would be swept up into a garbage bag and tossed out with the trash. If you were lucky, you could save your hair elastics, nail polish, homework, or dental retainer before it got taken away with the garbage pick-up that week. If you didn’t notice that your stuff was missing in time, you were S.O.L. I can remember a particularly heated row between my parents after my dad threw out the top bit to the pressure cooker in one of these empirical sweeps. My mother was not pleased.
Now that I have my own kid who leaves bits and pieces of random crud around the house (small squares of torn paper, half-finished tangles of woven string bracelets, any number of drawing implements, pieces of tape), I often find myself fighting the inclination to unleash a tidiness tsunami. What stops me is thinking about how annoying, inconvenient, and inconsiderate it was when my father did it. I remember how frustrated it made me feel and consider how that would make my daughter feel if I were to do the same thing. I take his method, analyze it for purpose, tweak the process to get to where I want to be, and come up with my own way.
And this is why I think that every parenting generation has the potential to be better than their own parents at raising their children. It’s not an automatic designation, however. It takes empathy, introspection, and a desire to do better. It also takes the acknowledgement that our parents meant well, as much as any parent tries to do the best when bringing up their kids, but times are different, we know more, and can simply do better. There’s a humility involved too, as theoretically, our children will think the same way when it comes time for them to raise their own kids. But what do they know anyway; they’re just dumb kids.