Friday, September 7, 2012

Holding onto connection when traveling

Welcome to the second edition of the "I'm a Natural Parent - BUT..." Carnival

This post was written for inclusion in the carnival hosted by The Artful Mama and our feminist {play}school. During this carnival our participants have focused on how mainstream society has affected their natural parenting and how they have come to peace with this.

reflective boy on train to airportI find it hardest to hold onto my natural parenting ideals when we travel to visit family. Around locals, I am proud of my choices. Around friends, I stay strong. Around family … I falter.

There's something about family members that can push your buttons harder and more discerningly than anybody else. And while I have been able to hold more or less firm on our choices to cosleep, cloth diaper, do EC, continue baby-led solids, homeschool, breastfeed (into toddlerhood and beyond), and babywear, the one place that continually gets attacked is the place I always feel most vulnerable: respectful, consensual interactions with my child.

The other natural parenting things feel like outward markers. I can sense family members dismissing them as hippie choices and not feeling overly threatened by them, since they would never want to be considered hippies. (My parents grew up in the right time period and firmly eschewed taking part in the movement. Instead of growing his hair long and protesting Vietnam, my dad joined the Army and got his regulation buzz cut. My mom repudiated free love and wouldn't let my dad kiss her until they were engaged. I like them a lot, even if they don't always know what to make of me and my crunchy ways.)

When it comes to honoring a child's voice, fully listening to his requests, and seeking compromise as a family, the whole philosophy goes so against what the dominant culture teaches, and the way I was brought up. It seems revolutionary in an unsettling and potentially dangerous way.

They can dismiss the other things as kind of … silly — but respecting children? That could lead to trouble.

After all, I'm told, we don't want children to be spoiled. They can't grow up thinking they're the boss. They need to know there are consequences.

This type of language is so ingrained it's hard to step outside it and see the fallacies for what they are — to see the fact that approaching parenting with this mindset closes off true, reciprocal relationship.

And so, I'll admit it: I have a hard time keeping a handle on my own gentle parenting ideals when I'm hearing so many voices assuring me their way is better.

When Mikko was 3, for instance, we went for a visit to a beach cottage with his grandparents. The first day we settled into the cottage and then debated whether first to go to the beach or out to get dinner at a restaurant known for its ice cream. My parents mentioned the beach first, and Mikko was excited to run off and start digging in the sand. Then they changed their minds and decided dinner should be first. It's no easy task to redirect a three-year-old's enthusiasm, but Sam and I gamely tried, reminding him of the dessert that would await him after the meal.

Just as we'd gotten him excited about going to the restaurant, my parents changed their minds again and decided a short walk to the beach was in order before it got dark.


We tried, without success, to get Mikko excited again about going to the beach, but visions of vanilla ice cream cones were now dancing in his head. My parents started insisting he put his shoes on and come to the beach, now. He didn't want to put his shoes on, and Sam said he could carry him instead. "No," my mom said. "That's not necessary." She shooed us away and said, "You go on. We'll get him ready and bring him after."

Sam and I obeyed, woodenly. We were several steps down the lane when Sam stopped, turned to me, and said angrily, "I'm his father. I get to decide." It snapped us both out of it, and we turned back to where Mikko's crying was still reverberating out into the quiet neighborhood.

When we walked in, my parents glanced up at us in surprise. "We've got it all taken care of," my mom said, forcing shoes onto Mikko as he continued to protest.

It's wasn't what I would call "taken care of."

Sam scooped him up and now he waved them away, telling them to go to the beach without us and we'd wait here, calming Mikko down, until it was time for dinner.

As they purposely walked away, the thought came to me: Wait a second, who was acting like the three-year-old here?

It didn't matter whether we went to the beach or to dinner right then, and it didn't matter who wore shoes; it was all a matter of control. If anyone else had protested that dinner first sounded like a wiser plan, it would have been taken into consideration. But because a three-year-old wanted it, he had to be taught a lesson.

I know those thoughts of children's inferiority are so ingrained that it's hard to get beyond it to question it, so I don't blame my parents for being who they are. I do blame myself for capitulating, though — although I can point out in my own defense that to capitulate was exactly how I was raised.

There's always an implied suggestion that I control my child, and I begin bowing to the pressure — forgetting that relationship is not about control; it's about connection.

By analogy, suppose when we visited Sam's parents, they urged him to use a firmer hand with me? Fortunately, my in-laws are not so brutal. Women, you see, have gained in status over the past decades. Children have not come so far.

dad and boy walking down gangplank to airplane together in airportChildren are still mistrusted, still suspected of wanting to overthrow adult harmony with their otherwise unchecked potential for mischief and chaos. Their needs and desires, therefore, are always secondary to grown-ups', even when the adult decisions are capricious, inconsequential, and ever-shifting — like our quicksilver series of decisions to go to the beach — no, dinner — no, beach. Rather than adapting ourselves to an immature mind and temperament, Mikko was expected to adapt to us — immediately, no questions asked.

We're going to visit my family this month, and I truly hope I can hold onto my role as parent while we're there. I hope I can ride out tantrums with peace; excuse and accommodate tired, hungry, and overstimulated little ones; and navigate the ups and downs of parenting young children while offering respect and connection over demanding obedience.

Further reading (well worth it):

Do you falter with connection when you're among certain family members? How do you bring yourself back to respectful, gentle parenting in the face of pressure and criticism?

I'm a Natural Parent — But … Blog CarnivalThis carnival was created by The Artful Mama and Natural Parents Network. We recognize that "natural parenting" means different things to different families, and we are dedicated to providing a safe place for all families, regardless of where they are in their parenting journeys.

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
  • I'm a Natural Parent- BUT... - Carrie at Frugal Foodie Mama says "We breastfeed. We co-sleep. We babywear. But we do not cloth diaper. This post is about my reasons why I haven't, and why I would still like to try it."
  • Am I Really a Natural Parent? - Valerie at Momma in Progress confesses maybe she's a bit more mainstream than she thought.
  • I'm a Crunchy Mama, BUT... - Shannon at GrowingSlower has learned that her food doesn't grow on grocery store shelves, but she still has a long way to go.
  • I'm a Natural Parent, kid loves a screen - Lyndsay owns her son's love for television programming, ipad and apps.
  • Ashamed to Breastfeed - Kym at Our Crazy Corner of the World talks about how she was ashamed and intimidated to breastfeed in public.
  • When they gotta go... - Jorje of Momma Jorje shares her EC weakness...
  • Love For the Mainstream - Amy W. explains how letting a mainstream family into her life increased her self-awareness, and helps her to maintain balance while advocating for natural parenting.
  • Weaning My Nursling - Alisha at Cinnamon&Sassafras reflects on her decision to wean her son, rather than waiting for him to decide.
  • I'm a Natural Parent But...My Toddler is a Junk Food Junkie - Chanisa at City Girl Slash Hippie Mom talks about how she's trying to get her two year old to have healthier eating habits
  • I'm a Natural Parent - But...I'm Socially Awkward - Shannon of The Artful Mama talks about the difficulties she experiences maintaining her conviction when she experiences social resistance.
  • Holding onto connection when traveling - Lauren at Hobo Mama wants to respect her children rather than demand obedience … but it's so hard around family.
  • What would the neighbours think?! - Teresa at This Savvy Mama talks about the pressures of balancing life skills with the realities of having two young children.
  • French Fries and Diaper Blowouts - Arpita hosts a guest post detailing how, just every once in a while, the chaos of running a business can hamper even the most regimented natural parenting plans, and the sometimes messy (and stinky!) consequences!
  • Confessions of a mostly natural parent - Jessica of Crunchy Chewy Mama feels good about many of the choices she makes but there are things she wants her kids to do, practice, and believes that she is not modeling for them.


Momma in Progress said...

Um, yes, yes, and yes to everything you said. I've found that visiting my own parents has gotten easier with time, but my in-laws still pretty much expect the Agents to behave like potted plants. Usually if we're at their house for more than 48 hours I start threatening my husband that I will throw them in the car in the middle of the night and just start driving like a mad woman. (I know, maturity.) Two things that work to our advantage: we are a plane ride away (or a long 2 days of driving), and they often will visit us instead. I find everything much easier to handle when I'm on my own turf.

Mrs.WJAA said...

I agree with you 100%, when we are away from our parents, we can hang on to our ideas and ideals (though we don't have children yet), but when we are around them, we fall right back into the 'that child needs a spanking' mindset.. That is one reason hubby and I want to move before our little one(s) get here in may..

Perhaps if you use luggage while you are there, tape some parenting affirmations to the inside of the lid, so that when you are getting out your clothes for the day, you will be reminded again to stand your ground with your parents.. not much, but it may help. Good luck.

Kymberlee said...

So much of this resonates with me. Like you said, it's just been ingrained in our society that children's opinions aren't valid and they need to mold around whatever an adult wants....and it's so hard to break out of that mindset! Especially around family! It's a learning process, but really frustrating at times. :/

Alisha Huber said...

This one hits very close to home. Very few of my friends, even the crunchy ones, embrace an alternative, unconditional approach to parenting. I feel terrible when I'm with them and I see them yelling at their kids, pleading with their kids, and occasionally, spanking them. Meanwhile, I feel pressured into doing things like making my not-quite-two-year-old share...even though I don't believe that forcing a kid to share teaches him about sharing.

citygirlslashhippiemom said...

Yes yes yes, it's so hard to hold on to my ideals while my family is questioning every move I make. Especially during a temper tantrum.

Arpita And Jonathan said...

Ohhh, I love it!! Honestly, this is the FIRST thing that drew me to Natural Parneting. I had, what I would consider, a great childhood. But every REALLY big blow out with my parents that I can remember - when I reflect over it as an adult all I can think is "Wait, why did that matter?!" Who cares if I wanted to wear the shoes that didn't match the dress, or the really fancy dress to a not so fancy affair... Are these really the things I'm going to spend my time fighting over? No. Good for you (and for Sam!!) for standing up for M. LOVE you all... and even Little A. ;)

Lyndsay said...

I also struggle to find my true voice around my family. I struggle with not wanting to offend them and not wanting to offer my son anything less than what he deserves. I feel crappy after long-ish family interactions and less authentic. Thanks for reminding us that we all struggle with that aspect of honouring our kids and connections.

Shannon said...

I couldn't agree more. With me it is easier to "stand my ground" over the phone or Internet with my family. As soon as we are visiting I lose something and find myself having to rally again, when if it were strangers I'd have it under control.
It is so good you have Sam to back you up.

Jessica Claire H. said...

Wow, this makes me feel like I should appreciate my family and in-laws more! I guess I should consider myself lucky not to have to deal with stuff like this. It sounds so frustrating. I do feel like the Waldorf teachers have a point that too much choice and openness can be hard on young ones who need structure. But. That does not mean they need to be put in their place, unless you want your kids to learn to be jerks to other people! I hope that if your folks display another ridiculous flip-flop -- or even before they do -- you can just state your needs and go with them. Something like (with the beach vacation example, "We are all pretty hungry, so food is the highest priority. If you all would rather eat later, do what works for you!" Maybe logistics (car, $, space) limit your options, but I hope it goes better! Be confident! You know what is best for your family! Thanks for sharing.

Melissa said...

Great post. I feel the same way. It's like I have to explain, excuse, and apologize for myself and my child when km around my father. It's very frustrating. And sad, really.

Sybil said...

Oh my goodness, what timing for this post. Visiting my parents this summer was mostly a total nightmare in this regard. And then when you wrote the thing about your parents saying one thing, changing their mind, then changing it AGAIN?!?! That happened ALL THE TIME. My kids do not take kindly to that kind of behavior-- I mean, I am sure most don't, but mine straight up lose it and then they appear to be tantruming brats to my parents. And the kicker was my siblings kids showing up and OF COURSE they are perfectly behaved. I was totally ganged up on, solo parenting my kids in that environment. Anyways, never, ever doing it again. It made me an awful parent and stressed my kids.

So, yeah, you kind of hit a nerve with this post ;)

Michelle said...

Thank you for this; I can really identify with it. I was raised in a very strict household, where fear and control ruled most everything. My parents live on the other coast and have minimal interaction with my 2 boys, who are 2 and 4. Still, any in person interaction includes a lecture on my parenting style and constant reminders of how I am spoiling them (co-sleeping!) and how I need to show them I am in charge. Last visit, I was on my own, as DH stayed home. I was able to assert my parenting choices and explain to the boys, in front of my parents, why Grampy yelled or insisted that they sit at the dinner table, hands on the table, never spilling, moving, or touching anything but their silverware or napkin (oh no, not fingerprints on the table!!). It was freeing to call them on it, and have them hear how it was hurtful to the boys. I still called my DH every night crying about how painful the whole thing was.

Tallulah@Bilingual Babes said...

What a great post, and it's good that you stood strong that time with your parents. I never thought of this in terms of children's rights, or a history of being treated as inferior, but it does seem to be the accepted way of things!

Janine said...

My mother is pretty crunchy herself, and was into organics and the environment back when raising little me in the 80's-90'. I also thought that I was raised in a very gentle way. I have great memories of being listened to and respected as a person - I used to write long letters to persuade my parents to let friends sleep over and other such BIG THINGS to me, and often got my way! They would really consider my points and what I could or couldn't do was rarely about control. (My dad was controlling only when really angry, and always offered a heartfelt discussion/apology later on.) I was the "bad influence" because I would persuade my friends to push back against less flexible parents and the status quo!

That said, my mom surprises me sometimes now that I have a child! She is VERY supportive, has told me many times that I'm a great parent, and she never criticizes, but she does offer advice I don't agree with sometimes and it catches me off guard. For instance, she mentioned that it's OK to hit my toddler's hand if he does something dangerous such as running into the street or reaching for the stove. UM, WHAT NOW. Thankfully my husband is quick to stand up with me, and my mom doesn't push the issue, but it sort of makes me wonder if I'm remembering my own childhood less accurately than I thought...

I wonder if your mom just figured Mikko would be happy once he was on the beach and that it was worth it. I know that my toddler refuses to get dressed to go outside even when he really WANTS (sometimes desperately) to go out. Sometimes we are more firm than we would like to be just because we know it will be worth it in the long run. That one is a really fine line for me.

"If anyone else had protested that dinner first sounded like a wiser plan, it would have been taken into consideration. But because a three-year-old wanted it, he had to be taught a lesson." This was the most powerful part of the whole post for me, and really hammers it home. Great piece!

Shannon Brown said...

Thank you for being brave and transparent enough to share this story. My mom's mad at me just because I wrote about her not making potato salad from scratch. :) Seriously, this is such a great illustration of main stream versus natural parenting. I will always remember it when having to deal with these difficult in-the-moment parenting issues. I hope I stand my ground like you guys did!

I'm putting a link in my Weekend Links post.

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