I heard the stories: my grandpa’s temper, what a demanding parent he was, the beltings his children got, how he had no patience for their mistakes. And he constantly told them, “I work hard all day…!”
My grandpa and I were not close. His reserved and gruff demeanor, combined with my knowledge of the kind of a parent he had been, kept a distance between us.
And then something happened to me: parenthood. There is a saying, “I was a perfect parent until I had a child.” I thought I would create a home filled with patience and love. And I do—some of the time. But being a parent has made me see a side of myself I did not know I had. Before, I did not think of the days when I had worked hard, only to come home and have that not mean much to a 4-year-old. I find myself saying “I work hard all day…!”
When I judged my grandpa so harshly, I had not yet experienced those moments when parenthood would challenge my deepest beliefs. I have not crossed the line and hurt my child, but I have come closer than I ever thought I would.
And I realize…my grandpa was raised in a time when it was acceptable to hit your child. And yes, he spanked and hit. He came home after working hard and demanded peace, quiet, respect and obedience for his sacrifices.
And me? I was raised in a world in which I was respected by my parents, never hit, never shamed. And what do I do? I remind my son of my sacrifices, and it takes every ounce of my self-control not to hurt him when I do not get his respect and obedience. Who would I have been if I had been raised in a generation in which such demands and punishments were the norm? Did my grandpa actually show more self-control than I would have under the same circumstances?
When my grandpa was in his 80s a series of strokes left him disabled. The day I told him I was pregnant with my son was his 87th birthday. He passed away about a month later. The day of the funeral, the whole family congratulated me on my pregnancy. I listened to the eulogies about his full life and accomplishments. In the back of my mind, the thought lingered, “But what about the way he treated his children?” Meanwhile, my son grew inside of me, probably the size of a sparrow at that point, knowing as little about his mother as I knew about myself.
This I believe: I cannot judge another person until I have walked his path…
My relationship with my grandpa has changed since his death and my own journey into parenthood. I still do not approve of the way he treated his children, but I have gained empathy and affection for a man who was very human and faced his own challenges in his own time.
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