Love is the only path to immortality. And love has a name: Grandchildren. Everything else is just a footnote.
For the women and men under 40 who naively think that their big choices relate to college, career and when to start a family I have news: It’s the entire cycle of life that counts. What matters is what lasts. And my definition of “what lasts” is what still matters most to you after you turn 60 when you have lived.
How you end up is the point, not how you start out. It takes a while to know that most of what worried you– college, getting yet another academic qualification, your job etc., was nonsense sold to you by media, business and an educational establishment with vested interests in keeping you focused on the wrong things.
I just read yet another article — this time in the Atlantic — about the “right” time to have a child. Of course it was by an educated successful white woman with lots of academic qualifications. This woman is a psychologist explaining why everything worked out fine when she delayed having children until she was pushing 40. She’d been agonizing over what comes naturally to most women in most of the world but has been tough for white upper middle class American women to figure out of late: love, life and reproduction. She’s now the mother of three little kids. The oldest just started kindergarten. Her mom is 40-plus. If her kids follow their mother’s example she’ll be 70 when her children get their PhD s, 80 when they finally commit to someone (if ever), and maybe squint at a one and only grandchild from her bed at the local hospice — if she makes it to 90 or 100, if, that is, her children have their first child when she did.
Put it this way: forget the old family farms in Tuscany where grandparents cared for children while both parents worked, forget great grandparents altogether, forget generations knowing each other. Many educated well off Americans might as well be raising their long awaited child in outer space on isolated space stations. The upper middle class “way” of family life is a study in parenting alone. In other words love and family is now — like everything else — an individualistic experience, not part of a community of continuity. This means that parents must reinvent every wheel, as if the sum total of real experience and calm relaxed family life can’t be passed down but must be re-discovered by one confused over-educated, over ambitious parent at a time.
The Atlantic author’s point was that the media-driven panic pushed on women about their “clocks” is overstated. She’s right on the science but wrong on her conclusion that by delaying having a child until very late she’d still managed to lead a full life. Let me be blunt: as a 40-something with young children she doesn’t have a clue yet about what a great life really is. Older parents with little children don’t know anything more about life or about parenting than young parents do. Experience is all that counts in life and a 40 year old dad or mom with a young child is still just a young parent– until they have been through the entire cycle of raising a child.
I’m 60 and don’t have clue either, about what I’ll know by 70 or 80. I know now that I don’t know anything about anything I haven’t personally experienced. But I do know this: I have three grown children and four grandchildren because my wife and I did it all wrong. We got pregnant as teens, then figured out our careers later.
Don’t get me wrong. Having kids as kids is tough! Having children “late” is fine. Having no children is fine. Remaining single is fine. Happy people with no families abound. Being straight or gay is fine. Being an atheist or religious is fine. There are many ways to have a good life. And this isn’t about morality but about fullness and happiness. But…
That said a few writers who think that their elite educations translate into life knowledge, like the author of the Atlantic piece, need to remember that they don’t have a clue about their futures until they get there. In other words they don’t yet know what lasts and what counts. In fact their educations blind them to actual facts of life. This is especially true for people living in academic communities. They think they have options. They don’t. They are using all the wrong markers to measure “success.” Those markers were designed for them by corporate capitalist America, not by evolution and the truth of what being a human primate really is about.
Career isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. It’s having grandchildren that matters. Then and only then does the actual cycle of life become clear.
Trouble is you can’t see that truth — no matter how well educated you are or how successful — until you get there. By “there” I mean a point in life where you look back knowing what mattered and what didn’t. Then and only then can you come to know what starting a family was really about. For instance you come to see that having children early enough to be an active grandparent enjoying your grandchildren and contributing to their most profound sense of well being is the deepest joy of life you’ve experienced.
Yesterday I sat at my table with my daughter’s teenage son, my son’s two little ones, my wife and my daughter-in-law plus two grown sons. The teen grandchild was looking through a photo album my wife had put together for him of his life so far. The little kids (3 and 5) were sitting in the kitchen sink playing with water and eating grapes. Nothing special was happening– other than beauty, love and peace.
Today I’ll be working on renovating my 5-year-old granddaughter’s bedroom. Her idea of a grandfather is of a caregiver who can build things, keep pace with her and be there for her. My idea of joy is seeing unconditional trust and love in her eyes.
I’m so grateful for having been dumb enough to start the family cycle young enough to luck into something I was too stupid to avoid. Now I’ve discovered that lots of clever people have set a trap for themselves by being too clever by half. They have gotten so fixated on the start of life and the striving for nonsense — money, career and prestige — that they’ve forgotten to make smart choices to shape their later years and reap the real reward for having survived youth… while they are still young enough to enjoy every last drop of the best life offers.
We have been so fixated on a set of rules for life designed for us by people who see everything in terms of the economy that we are forgetting that the whole point is to create beauty, give love and to be at peace.