Wissot: Smile when your kids accomplish what you didn’t (column) | VailDaily.com

Wissot: Smile when your kids accomplish what you didn’t (column)

Jay Wissot
Valley Voices

I'm glad I wasn't Abraham Lincoln's son, Robert. After your father is acclaimed the greatest president in the history of the country, there isn't much room for you to be anything more than the son of the greatest president.

Poor John Quincy Adams became the sixth president of the United States but is barely remembered in the history books because his father, John Adams, was one of our founding fathers and the second president of the United States.

Fortunately for my two daughters, I set the bar very low, and as a result, they didn't have to worry that their accomplishments would pale in comparison to mine. I'm pretty sure by the time they both turned 10 they were keeping track of me in their rearview mirrors. I'm happy they did. Don't parents want their kids to do better than they did? What's that you say? It all depends on your definition of "better." I agree. It definitely does.

If by better we mean having more money, a bigger house and cooler cars than our parents had, then the generations that followed the baby boomers have struggled to achieve comparable wealth. I don't think it's their fault, either.

It is harder for the latest generations to achieve the material wealth of previous generations. I had it far easier than my parents, who were both born before World War I. They spent their 20s and 30s losing economic ground, first due to the Great Depression in the 1930s and then World War II in the 1940s. My path to prosperity in the 1970s and 1980s was a cakewalk in comparison.

The generations who followed the boomers, Generation X and Generation Y (the Millennials), now in their 30s and 40s and 20s and 30s, respectively, have not led charmed economic lives. The first two decades of this century have been filled with economic turmoil: stock market crashes; housing market collapses; periods of high unemployment; wage stagnation; the rise of student loan debt. Rather than a cakewalk, their financial struggles have resembled a torturous slog.

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So how do kids do better than their parents if we don't use material wealth as a basis for comparison?

One way is to look at all the things the kids accomplished which their parents didn't or the things they accomplished far better than them.

I always wanted to be a writer and travel the world as part of my profession. Have you been to Kiev? Neither have I. How about Edinburgh, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Prague, Berlin, Bydgoszcz in Poland? Didn't get to visit all of them? Me either.

My oldest daughter has. She's a journalist who is a contributing editor and feature writer for several online film magazines. She specializes in writing about documentary films and travels to film festivals around the world in order to review films and interview film directors. Not a bad gig. The best part is, she gets paid to do it.

I began my career as a high school English teacher in Hackensack, New Jersey, a blue-collar, working-class community close to New York City. I taught for five years there. I wouldn't use the word distinguished to describe my years as a high school teacher. I was fair to middling at best.

My youngest daughter is now in the 18th year of her career as a special-education teacher. She began teaching in the some of the toughest schools in the Bedford- Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, transferred to an alternative high school in the East Village and then was hired by the United Nations International School located next door to the U.N. building in Manhattan.

By the time she left New York to teach for international schools in Amsterdam, Luanda, Angola and Berlin, she had taught kids at the elementary, middle and high school levels. She is now a special-education program supervisor in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

By the way, did I mention that I spent five years as a high school English teacher?

Am I being overly modest? Not at all. Just honest. Am I behaving like a very biased, albeit proud parent? You bet I am. But I'm not so much proud of whatever I may have done as a parent for my daughters; I'm proud of what they have accomplished on their own for themselves.

Parents, to me, are like the booster rockets in a space launch. The rockets' job is to lift the spacecraft off the ground and into the earth's atmosphere. Then the rockets are designed to drop back to the ground while the capsule embarks on its mission.

That's pretty much what parents are there to do. They help launch their kids' lives and then watch from a distance as the kids blast off and soar on their own.

Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at jayhwissot@mac.com.