As a sometimes-hapless father, one of the things I learned about parenthood is there really wasn’t a lot that was new. Most of it was just the same stuff I experienced in childhood, happening to my own children with me in the role my father once occupied.
I took a certain delight in discovering that. It was fun to watch as my daughters encountered many of the same situations I faced when I was at their ages. And it was comforting when I saw them reacting to circumstances in much the way I had. It reinforced the notion that the values and beliefs my wife and I espoused were being passed along to them.
The tough part, of course, was watching what happened on the few instances when they made an unwise decision and had to face the consequences of their mistake. I often wondered if my parents had felt the same conflicting emotions as I did on those occasions.
The hardest thing of all was resisting the temptation to tell my daughters what to do in every situation, to provide them a shortcut to what I’d had to find out on my own, sometimes through bitter experience. But I’d managed to convince myself that keeping quiet was often safest, that the process of figuring out the best way to proceed was more important for them than just being given the right answer.
“They learn best through discovery,” I would tell myself. “Not by being instructed.” And I made myself believe that.
But the difficulty with that stance was brought home to me on the occasion of my oldest daughter’s first babysitting job. Watching her go out the door, climb into someone else’s car, and drive off without so much as a backward glance was a bit of a wrench.
I could still remember how it felt when I went out like that. From the time I was thirteen until I finished high school, I regularly picked up extra money by babysitting little kids in the neighbourhood.
Mostly, it involved spending time with them before bed, then packing them off before the Saturday night hockey game started on TV. After getting them settled, I’d sit on the sofa, munching peanuts, sipping a cola until the parents came home.
To me, babysitting seemed like such a simple job back then. Nothing ever went wrong. And even if it had, there was always the telephone with the prominently-displayed number where the parents could be reached. And in a pinch, I knew I could always call my mother. Babysitting was easy!
But when it came my daughter’s turn, I was no longer so sure of that. Seeing my little girl go off to her own first job caused me some worry. At thirteen, she seemed awfully young to me!
Mind you, she was certainly well-prepared. She’d enrolled in a babysitting course with several of her friends in order to prepare herself for the role, and had proudly received her certificate as proof of her readiness.
During the next few months, she’d taken on a couple of pseudo-babysitting jobs, looking after young children while their parents were still in the house. By all accounts, she was a competent, confident, and caring babysitter.
I remember watching her pack her tote bag before going out on that first job. She put in a couple of storybooks she thought the youngsters might like, a deck of playing cards, two of her favourite stuffed toys, note paper and a pen, along with sundry other items. The only thing she didn’t have by the time she left was any doubt about her ability!
Nevertheless, I worried.
I remember leaping for the phone (uncharacteristic of me!) when it rang a couple of hours later. But there was no problem. She’d called only to let us know the kids were in bed, sleeping peacefully, while she was listening to one of her portable cassette tapes, and reading.
When she arrived home around midnight, flushed with the success of her first assignment, elated at the windfall of cash she had earned, I breathed a sigh of relief.
“Babysitting’s easy, Dad,” she said, and I heard the echo of my own younger sentiments. “There’s nothing to worry about.”
There hadn’t been for her, I guess, just as there hadn’t been for me when I was doing it. But her experience drove home the fact that, for me as a father, those babysitting jobs weren’t so easy after all! And when her sister joined the babysitting ranks a couple of years later, those same worries carried on apace.
But now, our lives have sallied through another cycle, and my daughters’ children are striking out—babysitting, weekend jobs, summer employment. I don’t fret so much about my grandchildren, though—partly because I’m more removed from them as a grandpa than I was as father to my own girls, partly because they have good fathers of their own to do the worrying, and mostly because the five of them are so darned competent at everything they do.
“Babysitting’s easy, Dad,” my daughter had said. And looking back on it now, on the whole parenting thing, I can almost convince myself she’s right.