Are you a better parent than your mom or dad? My son's question sent me into a spiral.

My son asked me the other day if I had a "good mom." I started to go down a winding road of context, which included phrases like "it was a different time" or "it depends," but then stopped and answered his real question.

"I don't know," I told him. "But I can tell you that your mom is better than mine."

He seemed fine with that answer. It was probably a flare-up of curiosity from an 11-year-old boy who spends a great deal of time with his mom and who has begun thinking about what makes a "good parent."

That short, random conversation, though, sent me down a rabbit hole of internalization.

What even is a good parent? Am I a good parent? Are you a good parent? Those are scary questions to ask ourselves, but here is where I landed on the answers.

The world my mother parented in is wildly different than this one

Generation X, born from 1965 to 1980, has a sort of aura about us that includes the idea that we raised ourselves, that we were the latchkey generation.

That's a cool-sounding way to say we were home alone a lot. That we would walk to school and back with zero check-ins. We would go home and do whatever we wanted for hours at a time without anybody truly knowing what we were up to.

We would live in the world with our friends free of any parental involvement. Many of our parents had no idea what we were doing or what our lives were like.

Should we let children do sleepovers? My 8-year-old daughter got her first sleepover invite. There's no way she's going.

Some of us, like my friends, used that time and freedom to make food, watch television or do homework. You know, productive stuff. The rest of us eventually realized doing whatever we wanted meant, well, doing whatever we wanted. That meant illegal stuff. Yes, I'm talking about drugs and alcohol.

We weren't the first generation to experience that, but it somehow became our brand.

Another part of the Gen X lore is that we were "tough" and just powered through what we know today are mental health issues. You'll hear the more toxic members of my generation mock the youth who want time off when they need a break. I have occasionally joined that mocking, but I am trying to do better.

What it means, though, is that we grew up knowing and sometimes being told outright that our opinion or overall sense of self didn't matter. We had anxiety. We lived with depression. We had music and movies that were full of angst. We were even offended by things.

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But it didn't seem to matter to anybody, and we didn’t have social media for any sense of a larger community. We just lived with it, for better or worse, and now we wear that childhood and those scars as a badge of honor.

It’s fine, we tell ourselves.

How did my feral childhood shape my parenting?

Louie Villalobos plays Pokémon Go with his son.
Louie Villalobos plays Pokémon Go with his son.

I didn’t get my first email until I was 22 years old, because that’s when Hotmail launched. It’s mind-blowing to think about how different things are and how our childhood affects how we now parent our own kids.

Many of us decided to ensure that our children don’t experience emotional and physical isolation. We make it a point to acknowledge their feelings and experiences. In some cases, they are demanding it.

Where I grew up learning that whatever issues or pain I was living with didn’t matter to the adults in the room, my son knows that everything he is feeling matters to us.

Where I was beaten for acting out or disobeying, my son knows that we’ll have a talk about things and that while I will express anger and frustration, I won’t put my hands on him.

Where my parents were not invested in my interests or activities, we’ll spend hours helping him learn about whatever he wants to learn about.

So, is my son's mom better than mine?

Now, after all of that internalizing and emotional treasure hunting, I need to go back to my son’s question: Does he have a better mother than I did?

My son was living his best life during the height of the pandemic.
My son was living his best life during the height of the pandemic.

When he asks again, I will tell him that my mother came to me with a different set of challenges, both external and internal, than his mother has to deal with.

I will tell him that my mother had to move to a new country as a teenager, learn the language and culture while dealing with a level of racism I only read about. I will tell him that my mother did what she could to raise me and my sisters, and that whatever I am today, good and bad, is because of her.

I will tell him that both mothers did and are doing their best given the worlds they were parenting in, but that he can be assured both mothers love their sons in a way that only mothers can.

In the end, that has to be good enough.

Louie Villalobos is a deputy opinion editor for USA TODAY.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Am I a good parent? What I've learned as a Gen X dad