I like to think I’m aging well, but what it means to age well has been dramatically redefined. It used to mean eating healthfully and staying in reasonable shape. Now, it means one thing: looking young. By 31, I was done having kids. For years, I’d bask in the surprise of others when they’d hear I had three sons. Once, when I told a new coworker, she responded, “You must mean you married someone who already had three kids!” Ah, the warm sun of vanity — and how quickly it was eclipsed by the cold cloud of reality.
I’m old. And if you’re post-50, so are you. Pick up an Us Weekly. Go ahead, flip through it. Chances are you won’t recognize half the “celebrities” featured. Who wore it best? Who cares? I don’t know who they are, anyway. And, likely, neither do you.
But I digress.
Maturity, especially of late, seems to come with the irrepressible urge for many to take to the internet roofs and scream their truths. I was one of the stampede and I’ve been blogging a long while now. I loved it at first. My voice, having wandered off in an unhappy marriage, was re-found. I wrote about parenting and relationships, sharing lightly on the personal to keep it real, and more heavily on the professional to keep it informative. But now, the landscape of blogging is changing. And the read-this-and-you’ll-learn-something model has been replaced with the read-this-and-you’ll-know-my-deepest-secrets model. And I’m concerned that oversharing has become the new black.
The voyeur in all of us enjoys reading about your extramarital affairs, relationship and/or substance abuse history, and the wild sexual escapades of your youth. I also know firsthand how cathartic writing can be. But I’m not sure how the younger generations will react when they Google (or whatever it is they’ll be doing) their parents one day to find that Daddy cheated on Mommy with Auntie, and then Mommy drank so much she had to go to rehab.
Should kids really sit in a pile of their parents’ dirty laundry? I say nay and I’m sticking to it.
I knew things about my parents’ marriage I never, ever should have. And that information made it very difficult for me to figure out my own relationships in ways too many to count. For one, I still grapple with trust, and probably always will. And that’s no small thing.
In the tsunami of accolades for Beyoncé’s new album, Lemonade, I can’t help but think about her daughter, Blue Ivy. Beyoncé’s pained response to her husband’s alleged infidelity is now public record. That she was able to turn her heartbreak into art is a testament to her talent. I’m not arguing that. She’s become an infidelity warrior, sage, and survivor. But what happens when her now 4-year-old daughter understands these songs, and the intention in their words? She’s got a good 30 years ahead of her before she can even begin to conceptualize the nuances of marriage and infidelity. In the meantime, she’ll be navigating her own relationships with her dad’s less-than-stellar behaviors as her backdrop.
I’m not suggesting parents attempt Stepford-like perfection. We’d wither trying. And I’m not recommending militaristic secret-keeping as the way to go either. But there’s a healthy balance in there somewhere. And you don’t have to be a published writer or worldwide superstar to find it, you just need to parent thoughtfully. Your kids should be culling wisdom from your fading scars, not from the actual bloody wounds.
The gift of aging is in the knowing. No longer fueled by untethered hormones, our impulses are weighed heavily against consequences. And, even so, we continue to make unhealthy choices, sin mightily, and regret last night. We know better, and we do it anyway. But sharing your missteps with your kids won’t make them smarter, or savvier, or happier. What it will do is require their young brains to process situations they can’t yet begin to understand. What it will also do is create destructive imprints for them that will last a lifetime.
There’s value to maturity, and it needs embracing. The more we deny growing old, the more we feed the collective obsession with youth. The more energy we spend fighting aging, the less time we spend imparting appropriate wisdom to our kids. And that wisdom should include knowing who’s an appropriate audience for our tawdry tales, and who, most certainly, is not.
For writers, our desire to be embraced by the public at large, to be published in well-respected periodicals, to use the written word as self-directed therapy, have blurred our optic. Of course, we should reference our hard-earned lessons to help guide our children toward better decisions and healthier outcomes. Isn’t that, above all, what we want for them? And isn’t imbuing our kids with the ability to love without sentry — and trust without fear — the only proof we need that we have, in fact, aged well?