Friday, June 7, 2013

On what parenting means

On what parenting means == Hobo Mama

We visited my family last fall, and while it was a good trip overall, there was one incident that really upset me.

We were heading downtown, so we drove to the train station. We had to take two cars because my parents had sold their minivan, but my parents drove both cars. (I don't know why that's significant; it just made me feel that little bit more powerless not to have control over my own transportation.)

Mikko does this thing on walks where he likes to bring random toys and other goodies, swearing up and down that, yes, he will carry them … and within minutes, guess what happens. He's slipping one thing into our pocket, suggesting another might go better into our backpack, or just blissfully and shamelessly asking us to please hold all his stuff so he can run ahead.

Today it was shoes. He emerged from Nana's backseat with one pair of Crocs on his feet, and another pair on his hands. This is actually true.

I was feeling short-tempered. "One pair of shoes," I ordered. "Please put the other shoes back into the car. We have to catch the train."

My mom was watching this and chimed in. "One pair of shoes," she echoed. "Your uncle is waiting for us." We were meeting my little brother downtown, though the timing was flexible.

Sam the peacemaker said, "Who cares? I'll carry them."

But I was feeling stubborn. "No. He always does this. We're going to be downtown all day, and I don't want to carry random crap." To Mikko, and feeling aggravated: "Put the extra shoes back in the car!"

Sam started to reason and negotiate with him. Usually, this would work and take just a few extra minutes.

But my mom stepped in. "1 - 2 - 3," she counted (as if Mikko knew what counting means in disciplinary terms!). She snatched the Crocs off his hands, opened the car door and threw them in, locked it with the key fob, and marched away without looking back. "There."

Mikko started wailing. My parents walked away from us toward the train. I looked back and forth from my son to my mother, trying to fathom what exactly had just happened.

We followed my parents toward the station, meeting up with them near the ticket kiosks. Mikko was dejected and still crying. I was … mad. I held a hurried whispered conversation with Sam about where my mom got off taking over the situation like that. We'd had incidents like this happen before where I hadn't said anything and regretted it, so I told Sam, "I need to say something." And I screwed up my courage and did.

"Mom," I said, trying to keep my stupid voice from breaking, "we were handling the situation. I don't appreciate it when you step in and take over like that. We're his parents, not you."

My mother gave this hardly a beat before she came back with her response: "Well, you sure don't act like the parent."


At this point, I was crying. I'm a crybaby. It is what it is. I couldn't trust myself to say anything more since I'd just be blubbering it, though I had plenty more to say.

We sat on the train platform in an awkward silence broken only by my hiccuping attempts to stem the tears and my mom's targeted complaining that we'd missed the train we wanted by about ten seconds. True enough, but since no one had looked at a schedule, it's not like we knew that at any point during the Crocs Incident.

I messaged some friends from Natural Parents Network, since I can type through tears even though I can't speak. They helped talk me down, and I knew Sam was supporting me.

But here's what I took away from that confrontation, in no particular order:

  • My mom doesn't like Mikko.
    This one hits me the hardest. And it's perhaps too baldly stated to be entirely true. But I get this sense that he infuriates and frustrates her more than delights, and that saddens me. In my mind, there's nothing wrong with Mikko; he's just being a kid. She's the one who's missing out.

  • We disagree on what being a parent means.
    To her, being a parent means being … well, I was going to use a bad word here, but let's just call it The Warden. Whereas I think being a parent means curbing that particular tendency. See, I was standing there during the Crocs deal not blameless and serene — I was pissy. I was ready to get into a shouting match with a five-year-old, and how stupid, over something so meaningless as a kid wanting to wear Crocs on his hands! Who cares! I should have just let it go. I look at moments like that to teach me to be less of a jerk and more laid-back, to stop counting the seconds till we miss a train and start enjoying the minutes we have to push elevator buttons with Croc-hands while we wait for the next one. My mom sees being a parent as being the person to be more the bad cop, to practice harder to lay down arbitrary rules (like, "No Crocs on hands in Boston!"). So while I am actually quite near her in practice, she wants me to be even more like that, and in spirit, too. I just can't agree with her on that one.

  • My mom thinks I'm a bad parent.
    See above. This one stings as well. She won't talk with me about it openly, because that's not our way. Our family never talks about things openly. We're more the fester-and-maybe-forget sort. But I'll now know it's always in the back of her mind, how she thinks I suck at this parenting gig. I'm not sure how much I care about her opinion, but it does make me sad that she doesn't see the joy and connection in our family and concentrates instead on our perceived failings as disciplinarians.

On what parenting means == Hobo MamaWhen we got downtown, I delivered an abbreviated version of events to my brother and asked him if he'd really been waiting impatiently for us. "Um … no," he said. "It's just a few minutes for me to get here. I got here after you did." All the implied hurry was imaginary. I'd even realized after we drove from the house that I'd left the mei tai at home — how was Alrik going to nap without it? But we couldn't (!) turn around to go back for it, of course, which meant he spent the day in an unfamiliar borrowed stroller getting more and more tired but refusing to sleep until finally he crashed in my dad's arms, and Papa carried him home that way. So I had already been feeling stressed and rushed when we got to the train station. (Though I have to say it was cute watching them once Alrik zonked out.)

I had moments during the rest of this trip where I told myself, Well, that's it, then. I'm never visiting again. Of course, I won't stick to that. My parents are my parents, and we were all in the heat of the moment. Since we won't actually talk things out, I don't know if my mom was equally upset by the exchange, or just had her pride wounded that I called her on overstepping her grandparent bounds. I don't even know if she'll hold back in the future or keep on trying her best to salvage my wretched "parenting" with her own disciplinary tactics. All I know is I still feel crappy about the whole thing.

But there is one shining light through it all: I stood up for my son and for myself. Can I get a "heck, yeah"? Even though it worked out awfully between my mom and me, even though there was no resolution or meeting of the minds, I said my piece and she knows where I stand — or, at least, knows that where I stand is somewhere other than where she does. And I showed Mikko that I'll vouch for him, that I like him, even when I'm being a crab, and that I won't let other people boss him around.

I've considered for a long time whether to share this story, and this has sat in drafts for months. It was a pivotal parenting experience for me, but the older my parents and I get (and the less time I realize we have with each other), the more I wish and hope I could just enjoy them for who they are, and who I am in relationship with them — to be more fully honest without letting the confrontations sour the good experiences. Stuff like this really pains me, but at the same time, I know the way I look at it is just my one side, and I can be overly sensitive. My parents are good people, and I had a happy childhood, so why do they push all my buttons now? I think I still have a lot to unpack regarding myself, and that's why encounters like this feel so critical in shaping my own parenting. All this to say that this story might be more about my interpretations than my mom's intentions, but … I stand by my conclusions about the point of parenting, and I needed to write this out to finish processing.

On what parenting means == Hobo Mama{Clicks and purchases through the links in this postscript support the work of this site. Thank you!}

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EarthMamasWorld said...

What a stressful day but you totally rocked it! I am hoping to remember your words when most of my family is in town visiting next week.

Olivia said...

My hope is this doesn't sound accusatory. I'm asking this in all sincerity, looking for other parents' opinion. Here's my question: when does stuff like the croc shoe thing become more than just "he's a kid"? My daughter just turned 4 and I think I give her plenty of room to just be 4 yrs old, I find myself expecting more from her. Like, I know one reason she might be having a meltdown is that she's tired, but I've been telling her that she still needs to control herself a little bit more regardless. I wouldn't do what your mom did, but I would have told my daughter to leave the shoes because I don't want to carry them later. If she protested, I would have just said no and that's final even if she cried about it. I feel like it's important for me to give an explanation, but once I've done that my word really is final.

Dena said...

Thanks for sharing. I am often reluctant to write things of this nature also (about family and friends) because I am worried that they will read it. How are you dealing with that?

Vanessa said...

I'm not sure why our parents push our buttons as we parent our own children. Maybe its a bit of revenge from our own childhood? I know my mother doesn't approve of many of the parenting choices my husband and I make. Periodically my mother will say something and I become defensive immediately and she always does this when my husband isn't around to support me. I make a retort of some sort and that's the end of it. Whatever the matter it is left to fester and be forgotten because we certainly can't talk it out like your family we don't talk much about the important things.

Prof. Hannah said...

I feel this way with my parents as well as my in-laws. The discipline thing is huge with the in-laws because we live much closer to them than my parents. It would frustrate me that every time we would try to handle a situation, my MIL would step in and sweep our son off. For me, it was making sure that my husband was aware of the situation (countless times) and remind him to be vigilant to these situations so that we could correct and redirect as we felt was appropriate. Like you and your mom, direct confrontation is not something that "happens." Being further away, it is a bit easier to handle disagreements and differences. What helps me not get frustrated is reminding myself what a great kid we have and it doesn't really matter how different our parents might parent, what we do works really well for our son and that is what is important. Plus, our son LOVES a countdown and I think somewhat encourages him to continued in the undesired behavior.

Prof. Hannah said...

@Dena understands that statement completely.

Lauren Wayne said...

@Dena: I don't let them know I blog. If I did, I'd no longer feel free to write about a lot of things.

Lauren Wayne said...

@Olivia: I totally am down with parents setting reasonable limits in a loving way. I just wish I had been in that loving, mindful space and not acting out of stress and irritation at the start. I know Sam was trying to take the few extra minutes it would take to help Mikko transition into leaving his (extra) shoes in the car, but my mom short-circuited that process. I don't know how it comes across on my blog, but I'm serious when I say I'm often a jerk to my kids — that's one reason I write things like this down, to remind me to be less of one! There's a balance between being the adult and guide in a situation, and being the person who sets capricious limits just to show kids who's boss. And when I'm in the gentle-parenting groove, I know I'm on the right side of that line, even if my kids get upset with a decision I've made.

Becky said...

My family is also a let fester, maybe forget, kind of people. It's hard to communicate. I've lost countless of hours thinking about what my brother has said, and that entire time, I'm positive that my brother hadn't a clue that he upset me so much (or worse, didn't care.) Although it didn't work out as you imagined to speak up, at least you don't have any regrets in "I should of said something." I hope it gets easier in the future for you and your mom.

Darcel {MahoganyWayMama} said...

Sometimes I wish my family and friends didn't know I blogged. Too late now! I think you handled the situation well, and it seems our parents come from the generation where a child does what they're told immediately. I have felt like my mom doesn't like one of my kids for the same reasons you mentioned above.

We don't talk things out very well. I've tried many times. It's starts out talking and then someone gets offended and the yelling starts.
Thanks for sharing this post. Be glad you don't live with you parents like I do :)

Anonymous said...

First - HECK, YEAH!! You GO, girl!

Second, my thoughts. Because my mother is also a good person who gave me a happy childhood, and yet she still totally pushes all my buttons. So I hear you. (Although, in my mother's defence, I can't imagine her saying anything as downright bitchy as "Well, you sure don't act like a parent." Ouch.)

Anyway, there are various reasons for the button-pressingness, but I think the one that's relevant here is that, for a very long time, she did not believe in my basic competence and ability to manage my own life. Now, she would have denied this hotly (and completely sincerely) if anyone had said as much to her - she has always believed I'm awesome, and let me know this over and over again. The problem was, she would also jump in at every opportunity with unsolicited advice about how I should handle - well, almost every aspect of my life. The message that gave? At bottom, she didn't believe I could figure stuff out for myself. It was an unspoken, constant dynamic in our relationship that drove me completely nuts.

(The good news? The reason I'm putting all this in the past tense is because I finally did get good at standing up for myself, and she got the message.)

Your mother is giving you that same message. Yes, she's probably a great person overall and a great mother in lots of ways. That doesn't change the fact that she hasn't mastered at least one of her key jobs as a mother - believing in her child's abilities, and backing off. Which feels horrible for you, not only because it's infuriating but also because it's natural to internalise it, to feel it really is some sort of reflection on your competence as a mother. It isn't. It's a reflection of her competence (or lack thereof) in the areas of believing in her child and of recognising boundaries.

If this keeps on being an issue, it would be completely appropriate to say calmly and firmly "Mom, I know you disagree with a lot of the things I do as a parent. You don't have to agree with them. You just have to back off and let be. We are doing it this way."

(One line I used to use with my mother, to lighten the mood a bit, was 'Any time you have more children, I'll let you raise them any way you like. I'm raising this one.')

Don't let your mother make this be about your parenting and whether or not she gives it the stamp of approval. Bottom line is that it's your way to raise your child as you see fit, and it isn't appropriate for anyone else to interfere, and you don't have to meet your mother's parenting standards to have the right to parent your child how you think right. You just have to be the parent of that child. Parenting those kids is your job, and your mother needs to learn how to back off.

Good luck, and sorry for the novel - hope it wasn't too bossy!

Lauren Wayne said... That is very insightful! I really appreciate it. I like both your offered scripts for responding to her, particularly the tongue-in-cheek one. :) I could see that going over ok with minimal damage to either of us.

Maud said...

Thank you so much for writing about this and being brave enough to admit that you're not always handling it the right way straight off either. I think it's really important for us all to admit to each other that we're not always the zen mamas we want to be.

Hell yeah, good for you! I completely identify with the "not talking about it" type of family, and I know how hard it would be to say something in that situation, particularly when you're feeling so hurt by what she did.

But her reaction is generational; it's unsurprising, really. I don't think it means she doesn't like Mikko, even if she might think he's a little too "wild" at times because she thinks you don't lay down the law/rein him in enough.

My father tried to slap my son once (when my son was 2) for disobeying him. I grabbed my son and told my father "We don't hit," which in retrospect was probably a refex action exactly as if my son had been the hitter. But I know my parents think my kids are undisciplined. (We only see them once a year, which is sad in many ways but at least avoids a lot of this.)

Lyndsay said...

Wow. What a tough and terribly depressing experience. You've shared similar stories about your mother's approach to parenting, and it is amazing to see the love and gentleness your have that stands in antithesis to her approach. It makes you wonder where our 'parenting souls' originate from.

You deserve all the heck yahs out there - not only did you support miko, but you support other parents by sharing a story that I think many people would hold back from the public eye. As always, thank you for being such an influence in the lives of so many parents. Children around the world have you to thank for the gentleness in their lives.

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