parentlife | Perspectives on parenting

Story and Photos by Jim Zang

Summer 2023

As Bob Dylan once sang: the times, they are a changing. Especially when it comes to parenting.

I’m no parenting ‘expert’, although I do have a sociology degree with a minor in psychology, but, as a son, father and now grandafather, I do have plenty of perspective when it comes to parenting.

Parenting is an interesting thing. There are no prerequisites other than physical maturity. No aptitude tests, no training required, no interview process. In fact, many times, becoming a parent isn’t even a conscious decision. It just … happens.

Yet, somehow, despite all the trial and error, the human race persists.

So, just what qualifies someone to be a parent? What knowledge and personal qualities are needed to be successful? And how do you measure success?

Yup, this parenting gig is a real enigma, with each generation doing what it thinks is best to raise the next. And each vowing not to make the mistakes their parents did.

Certainly, today’s parents have to deal with challenges my own parents had never heard of; things like the Internet, social media, gender identity options and climate change weren’t big issues of the day when I was growing up. My parents didn’t have to worry about that. Nor did I as a kid.

Which may have been a good thing as people tended to have children at a younger age back then. My mom was 20 when I was born. I was 28 and my wife 29 when we had our first. My daughter was in her mid-20s. My son and his wife were 32 and 29 respectively. Of course, finances play an important role as many couples are waiting until they feel financially stable before procreating.

We were taught to respect our elders and not to talk back to teachers. Good old Dr. Freigang made housecalls to our home when we were sick. And I got spankings when I was bad. There was no Google to research anything, so many parents, including mine, relied on Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care book for information. Not Mr. Spock, Dr. Spock.

In truth, it should probably be required reading. I may be the exception, but when we had our first child, he was literally the first baby I had ever held. I learned fast, and by the time he was four months old I was driving him to daycare every morning and changing a dirty diaper when we got there.

That’s how much time women got for maternity leave back then, four months, which was an improvement over the zero time off my mom’s generation got. In the past, to have a family, women had to quit their jobs. Period. We’ve come a long way since then, for the better.

The fact is, there’s no single ‘right’ way to raise children. My sister was a parent who didn’t believe in telling her kids ‘No’ or disciplining them and her kids turned out great. My two kids, a boy and girl, although raised in the same household by the same parents, couldn’t be more different in terms of personalities. What ‘worked’ with one didn’t necessarily with the other.

The conclusion I’ve come to over the years is that you really have to be a parent to understand what it means, how it feels, to be a parent. There’s nothing quite like it and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.