Filial Piety, American Style

Parenting is weird.  The simulataneous empathy and antipathy of one parent toward another is only the tip of the iceberg.  Oh, sure, we all feel for the poor woman whose baby is screaming on the train, but watch her quiet the screaming with a pacifier/bottle/backhand, and you’re sure to hear various and sundry gasps of indignation (“You’ll ruin the shape of his mouth!”/”He’s going to forever think of food as comfort and not sustenance!”/”You’ll ruin the shape of his mouth!”).

So it was with me and the show we’re currently watching, Friday Night Lights. In this season, the wife of the coach gives birth to another baby, 16 years her older daughter’s junior. Waves of pity washed over me watching this woman guiltily admit that she was upset that, 2 years from finishing the serious grunt work of parenting, she was going to have to do it all over again: the sleepless nights, the lack of time to yourself, all topped off with a few wonderful years with a teenager. Yeesh, I wanted to curl up into a ball at the thought of it. I saw her plead with her husband to have a night off, since the breastfeeding was taking too much out of her, and I completely understood. Granted, her baby apparently doesn’t cling to her like the world’s mightiest chimp, making nights out without her…shall we say, difficult? So, yes, I was jealous, but I understood. I watched her wrestle with the enormity of the task ahead, dying for breaks, deciding to stop breastfeeding because it was too Mommy-intensive, demanding everyone else pitch in, and I was absolutely on her side. I may not have agreed with everything she did, but, dammit, I was right there with her.

Then it happened. They mentioned her baby was 2 months old. I lost it.  “2 months? TWO MONTHS??? She’s gotten HOW many days and nights off ALREADY because it was all too much??? Is she fucking KIDDING ME????”

Once I calmed down, I realized that this isn’t uncommon, nor is it frowned upon in the United States. Having spent the first almost-year of my parenthood here in Spain, I had forgotten the different mentality that exists in my own “Patria,” which seems to imply that having a family ends your individual life. Right away.  Done. You will no longer exist as a person, but only as a mother.  Which is just a crappy thing to tell a new parent or a baby.

Granted, I’m spoiled, since here in Spain having a family is viewed as the beginning of your life, the extension of your being into a new generation. As such, children are not only allowed in all public places, but encouraged. It’s great but can border on the weird sometimes.
Still, there is no worry whatsoever about messes, noise, and the like. The extent to which this is true still surprises me (for example, when my daughter spit up on an older lady’s fur coat on the Metro, she elicited nothing by a smile and a chorus of “tranquila”s while I furiously scoured my bag for wipes strong enough to counter a lawsuit).

On the other end of the spectrum, the same is true for caring for your parents. Viewed a chore and another assault on your personal freedom in the United States, here it is viewed as so unbegrudgingly automatic that the word “duty” hardly even applies. It is unquestioned that parents, once they reach a certain age, go to live with their children, care for the grandchildren, and remain that way until they pass on. Period.

Are these two facts coincidental? An overlap of generations? I’m not sure, but, seeing as I’ve always found retirement homes astoundingly depressing, I’m not taking any chances.


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