As a mother I often wonder, is it more important to give my child roots or wings?
I live in a sleepy Southern town these days, but I haven’t always! Until I moved a year and a half ago, I had lived the majority of my life in urban and suburban environments. And lots of them! By the time I graduated high school, I had attended nine different schools, including three different kindergartens.
When I was five, my mother remarried. It was a down economy, so when my stepfather got a job offer in Korea, he jumped at the opportunity. We lived in Korea for two years, and I have lots of happy memories of walking through the open-air markets in Seoul, being rewarded with traditional Korean meals when I earned a good report card, buying freshly fried gun mandu from street corner vendors, and watching fireworks from our apartment rooftop. Because my stepfather did contract work for the US military, I was allowed to attend the local American school, which served children from pre-K through high school, and held mandatory Korean culture classes for all its students.
After Korea we moved to Virginia, to an apartment complex that was within walking distance of the Chesapeake. And after that, we skipped around suburban Atlanta. At the time I was there, my middle school was the largest in the country!
All the while I was also travelling back and forth to visit my father, who lives in the mountains of North Carolina, one of the loveliest and friendliest places in which a child could ever hope to grow up.
Experiencing such different physical and cultural environments deeply affected my personality. I think I am a more flexible, open, and sociable person because of our travels. My parents have asked me if I felt deprived of stability as a child, but I have always viewed my upbringing as a benefit that made me unique among my peers.
Now that I am a mom, I have anxiety about how I will parent a child whose experience differs so vastly from my own. Will I be able to help my boy navigate the highs and lows of stationary life? As a result of our moves, I didn’t participate in a lot of organized kid activities or sports. And although my family worked hard to ensure that I had wonderful relationships with my extended family, I didn’t see them nearly as often as my child does. These are routines and traditions that I am experiencing for the first time as his mom. Some of them don’t always feel natural to me.
I wonder how I can also help my child to be as flexible, curious, and open to change as I was as a child, when his life is largely homogeneous. Sure, I can expose him to different cultures and people, but there was something about the necessity of my family’s choices that affected my perception of our reality, even as a child. In short, vacationing in other locales is never quite like living there.
But then I remind myself that Scribble’s upbringing is likely to be as unique during this time as mine was twenty years ago. As the world simultaneously fractures and shrinks, more people have childhoods that look like mine, and fewer will have ones that look like his. My child will enjoy the magic of a childhood usually reserved for bygone generations: enjoying limited interaction with traffic, commercialism, and suburban sprawl, growing up among his cousins, grandparents, and great-grandparents, basking in the attention of friendly neighbors, and knowing everyone in his graduating class, the whole of which could fit on the head of a pin.
Indeed I would be remiss if I did not mention the poorer parts of my personality that were shaped by my upbringing: I get bored quickly, often feel alone in a crowd, and am always looking for something novel to attract my attention.
On the other hand, my husband– who grew up in our small town– seems so much more comfortable in his skin, is ok with silence, happy with the smallest of luxuries, loyal to the extreme, and has little trouble finding ways to be happy.
And truly, small town society is a fascinating culture in its own right. In such close quarters, kindness, politeness, and tolerance are quickly acquired skills, ones I didn’t master in my large school where it was easy to fly under the radar. Many cultural and economic issues laid bare in my current town simply don’t exist in the carefully-planned, family-friendly suburbs where I graduated from high school. Sometimes I feel that my child is getting more exposure to diversity here than he would if we lived elsewhere.
In the end there isn’t much I can do; we must give our children the best life possible given our circumstances. I am sure this is the same feeling that motivated my own parents years ago. As long as I maintain my values, hopefully Scribble can learn to be flexible, tolerant, and creative no matter where we call home!
Do you ever think about how your environment will shape your child’s personality?