Wednesday, August 3, 2011

When Your Parents Disapprove Of Your Parenting

I imagine it is difficult for parents who are used to having (at least the illusion of) complete control over their children to transition to any other kind of relationship with their children. I'm glad I am starting now, when my kids are toddlers, to practice letting go. I'm practicing giving them real choices, real control over their bodies and their lives.

I'm practicing trusting them now, when the issues are things like whether to brush hair or wear the same clothes for three days in a row or when to go to sleep. These small details will not matter in the grand scheme of our relationship, except that my children will know what freedom and self-control feel like, because they are actually allowed to control themselves. I'm hoping all of this practice will prepare me for when the issues get much bigger. When my kids are deciding who to date or marry, and how to raise their own children, I'm hoping I can continue to support them without criticizing them or pushing my own preferences on them.

I am very lucky to have parents who are open-minded about my unconventional ways of raising my children. The writer of this article is not as lucky. She has a mother who judges the way she raises her children, and is not subtle about it. Here is what happened at lunch with her mother and her children:
She exhibited her self-proclaimed trait of “always trying…” by keeping silent in many moments where I knew from experience that she disapproved of my parenting style. At lunch, for example, when the kids desired to read their books at the table as we waited (seeming interminably) for our overpriced fare at a Shelter Island mainstay, I looked at my mom and her pressed-tight lips and told them to give me their books.
Mom gives her kids their books as per their requests. Why shouldn't a child be allowed to read at the table? That's great. Oh no, wait... then:
...under the judgmental pretending-not-to-be-judgmental gaze of my mother, I asked them to put the books away.
This is really sad to me. This mother is forced to choose between pleasing her kids and pleasing her mother. She ends up sending the message to her kids that Grandma's wishes are more important than theirs, and her own. WHY? Why does the oldest person get to have it her way? Why does a mother (grandmother) still think she gets to call the shots, even when her kids are grown up enough to have their own families?

If it were me in this situation, I might tell Grandma "The kids like to read at the table at restaurants when we are waiting for food." Knowing this, Grandma has the choice whether to join the family at a restaurant.

This Grandma enjoys dining out with her grandchildren.

It would be different if we were dining at Grandma's house. Then I might tell my kids "Grandma would rather you participate in the conversation when we are at the table at Grandma's house." And I would give them choice whether or not to join the family at the table at Grandma's house, or read elsewhere in the house.

I think a person's preferences are important, regardless of age. My kids' preferences are as important as my own. Mine are as important as those of my parents. We can all work together to make sure everyone knows this. I'm practicing this now.

Maybe I just don't get it because my kids are so young, or because I'm not a grandmother. Maybe my feelings will change as I get older and my kids get older.

Or maybe I do get it. I get that my kids are not here to do as I say, or as I want. They aren't here to make me look good. They want to be free to be themselves, and to have my support in doing so, as long as their actions don't infringe on the rights of others. I get that my kids don't want to be judged and criticized. They want to know that they don't have to try to please me, to earn my love and approval. I want to be the kind of mother who gets these things.