Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Tightrope : Generations, Cultures and Choices

Welcome to the February 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: 
Respectful Interactions With Other Parents
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have focused on how we can communicate with other parents compassionately.

Growing up between two cultures gives you a lot of practice in balance. And once you become a parent, you may find  you are spending more time than ever on the tightrope.

How do you keep from falling when you are trying to forge a new path as parents, especially when your own parents disapprove of your choices?
balancing culture is a tightrope walk
Image credit Tom Raftery on Flickr

Much of the advice that I have read seems callous and patronizing. In a culture where you move out once you hit 18, may only speak with your parents once a week or so, if you have a good relationship, where outside baby sitters are the norm and independence is prized, there seems to be little understanding of our view of familia or the importance of closeness with the abuelitos and the heartache on both sides at conflict in the relationship.

We don't have that safety net of distance. The line between extended family and nuclear family gets blurred a bit when you take for granted that you will see each other weekly, as well as for every family birthday and all holidays.  It is just understood that eventually your parents will move in with you as they age and need more care.  We talk on the phone every day.  We don't even have a baby sitter who isn't familia.  And we want all this.

Parenting Differently

I didn’t set out to do things differently than my parents. I thought that they did a pretty good job with me and we have a good relationship. But the more I read and studied, talked things over with my husband and prayed, the more we were led to our own path.

On the surface, we made opposite choices on just about everything from birth to breastfeeding to sleep training to discipline. At times I felt torn between my convictions about parenting and distress at the idea of hurting our parents or seeming disrespectful.

I wanted to have my parents’ approval and for them to understand the reasons behind our choices. In fact, my eagerness had me bombarding them with every fragment of research and information I could find. I filibustered like a practiced politician on vaccination, homebirth, circumcision and gentle discipline. Deep down, I hoped that hearing all of the research and knowledge that went into my choices would help. Instead, I suspect that at times it came across as saying that they were ignorant.

I also found that many non-Hispanic friends didn’t seem to understand how agonizing it could be — most advice just seemed to suggest putting my foot down and saying, “I am the parent and you had your chance. Now you have to do things my way.” I didn’t just want the bottom line to be that we did what we wanted. I wanted to make sure our relationship wasn’t damaged.
I wanted my kids to grow up close to their abuelitos, and to trust them in their care without conflict. I wanted my parents and in-laws to know that we honored and respected them, but I also wanted them to do things our way. That is a lot to ask.
One of the most helpful things was listening, really listening, as my mom shared stories about my childhood. Some of the choices that she made went against her own heart. Like most of us, she was relying on experts around her to help her mother. When they told her that the only way babies would learn to sleep was if they were left to cry, or that breastfeeding was worthless after six months, or that children must be spanked, she sacrificed her own instincts to do what she thought was right. Being able to affirm her heart and her instincts helped both of us.

It also helps to find ways to validate their desires. Is your suegra really just not happy unless someone is eating? Does she just want a chance to hold the baby for a minute or to feel like her advice is useful? Then give it to her.  Try: “Thanks, but I’m waiting on solid food right now. But I would love for you to share the recipe with me!” or  ”I bet she would love to have you sing her that old lullaby that you used to sing to her papi.” Or:  ”Could you burp him for me?”

Even more meaningful may be finding ways to thank your parents for the things that they did right in raising you, and remind them that they helped you to become the loving, confident parent you are now. They need to hear that they are good parents, just like we do.

Honor and Healthy Boundaries

There are still areas where we disagree, though. In fact, most of them. And it is very, very hard to hold healthy boundaries. I would much rather avoid bringing up disagreements. There are some things where I have decided that it won’t hurt my children to know that good people don’t always do things the same way (food, praise). There are others where I feel that I have to protect them (car seats, spanking). It is awkward and even painful at times. However, how can I teach my children about healthy ways to handle disagreements and standing firm in their convictions if they don’t see me practice it?

I know that my parents love me and their nietos with all their hearts. Even when we disagree, our motives are the same.

The truth is that almost always, we are making the best choices we can for our families. My parents did. And so did their parents. Another thing that I learned was that my parents chose to be kinder and more gentle with us than their own parents were with them. That is not a criticism of my grandparents, who are wonderful people and full of love.  But, my grandparents also were kinder, better parents to my parents than their parents were to them. Each generation has grown progressively more gentle.
My choices are not a statement against my parents. Rather, it is thanks to their way of parenting me that I was able to have greater tools and resources to parent my own children even more gently.
We are going to slip off of that tightrope and fall as parents sometimes. Real life is just messy like that. But we can honor our parents and help our children to develop close relationships, even when we choose to do things in a different way.  And shared love for our children and each other is a wonderful safety net.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon February 14 with all the carnival links.)

  • How to Respond Respectfully to Unwanted Parenting Advice and Judgment — At Natural Parents Network, Amy (of Peace 4 Parents) offers some ways to deal with parenting advice and criticism, whether it's from your mom or the grocery store clerk.
  • Judgement is Natural - Just Don't Condemn — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shared her views on why judgment is unavoidable and why the bigger issue is condemnation.
  • Four Ways To Share Your Parenting Philosophy Gently — Valerie at Momma in Progress shares tips for communicating with fellow parents in a positive, peaceful manner.
  • When Other Parents Disagree With You — Being an attachment parent is hard enough, but when you are Lily, aka Witch Mom, someone who does not enforce gender roles on her kid, who devalues capitalism and materialism, and instead prefers homeschooling and homesteading — you are bound to disagree with someone, somewhere!
  • Mama Bashing — Lucy at Dreaming Aloud reflects on the hurt caused on the blogosphere by mama bashing and pleads for a more mindful way of dealing with differences.
  • Accentuate the Positive — Joella at Fine and Fair shares how she manages interactions with the parents she encounters in her work as a Parent Coach and Substance Abuse Counselor by building trusting relationships and affirming strengths.
  • The politics of mothers – keys to respectful interactions with other parents — Tara from MUMmedia offers great tips for handling the inevitable conflict of ideas and personalities in parenting/mother's groups, etc.
  • Trying to build our village — Sheila at A Gift Universe tells how she went from knowing no other moms in her new town to building a real community of mothers.
  • Internet Etiquette in the Mommy Wars — Shannon at The Artful Mama discusses how she handles heated topics in the "Mommy-space" online.
  • Parenting with Convictions — Sarah at Parenting God's Children encourages love and support for fellow parents and their convictions.
  • How To Be Respectful Despite Disagreeing On Parenting Styles... — Jenny at I'm a Full-Time Mummy shares her two cents' worth on how to have respectful interactions with other parents despite disagreeing on parenting styles.
  • Public RelationsMomma Jorje touches on keeping the peace when discussing parenting styles.
  • Navigating Parenting Politics — Since choosing an alternative parenting style means rejecting the mainstream, Miriam at The Other Baby Book shares a few simple tips that can help avoid hurt feelings.
  • Hiding in my grace cave — Lauren at Hobo Mama wants to forget that not all parents are as respectful and tolerant as the people with whom she now surrounds herself.
  • Carnival of Natural Parenting - Respectful Interactions with Other Parents — Wolfmother at Fabulous Mama Chronicles explores how her attitude has changed regarding sharing information and opinions with others and how she now chooses to keep the peace during social outings.
  • Empathy and respect — Helen at zen mummy tries to find her zen in the midst of the Mummy Wars.
  • Not Holier Than Thou — Amyables at Toddler in Tow muses about how she's learned to love all parents, despite differences, disagreements, and awkward conversations.
  • Nonviolent Communication and Unconditional Love — Wendylori at High Needs Attachment reflects on the choice to not take offense as the key to honest and open communication.
  • Respectful Parenting As a Way of Life — Sylvia at MaMammalia writes about using her parenting philosophy as a guide to dealing with other parents who make very different choices from her.
  • Homeschooling: Why Not? — Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling shares how parents can often make homeschooling work for their family even if, at first glance, it may seem daunting.
  • If You Can’t Say Something Nice… — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells her philosophy for online and offline interactions … a philosophy based primarily on a children’s movie.
  • Different Rules for Different Families — Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children discusses how differences between families affect our children, and how that can be a good thing.
  • Respectful Interaction With Other Parents — Luschka at Diary of a First Child shares the ways she surrounds herself with a like-minded support network, so that she can gently advocate in her dealings with those whose opinions on parenting differ vastly from her own.
  • Parenting as a mirror — Rather than discrediting others' parenting styles, Kate Wicker discusses why she tries to focus on doing right rather than being right — and why she’s also not afraid to show others that she’s a heartfelt but imperfect mama just trying to be the best mom for her family.
  • The One Thing {Most} Parents Have In Common: They Try Their Best — Christine at African Babies Don't Cry finds interacting with other parents easier once she accepts that they are all just trying their best, just like her.
  • Finding your mama-groove: 5 ways to eliminate judge/be judged metalityMudpieMama reveals 5 ways of thinking that have helped her find her mama-groove and better navigate tricky parenting discussions.
  • Speaking Up For Those Who Can't — We've all had those moments when someone said something hurtful or insensitive, or downright rude that just shocks you to your core, and you're stunned into silence. Afterwards, you go home and think "Gosh, I wish I said…" This post by Arpita at Up Down, And Natural is for all the breastfeeding mamas who have thought "Gosh, I wish I said…"
  • Thank you for your opinion — Gaby at Tmuffin shares her go-to comment when she feels like others are judging her parenting style.
  • Mending — A playground conversation about jeans veers off course until a little mending by Kenna at Million Tiny Things is needed.
  • The Thing You Don't Know — Kelly at Becoming Crunchy talks about what she believes is one of the most important things you can consider when it comes to compassionate communication with other parents.
  • 3 Tips for Interacting with Other Parents Respectfully When You Disagree with Them — Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama shares what she has learned about respectful interactions on her parenting journey.
  • Peacefully Keeping My Cool: Quotes from Ana — How do you keep your cool? Ana from Pandamoly shares some of her favorite retorts and conversation starters when her Parenting Ethos comes into question.
  • Kind Matters — Carrie at Love Notes Mama discusses how she strives to be the type of person she'd want to meet.
  • Doing it my way but respecting your highway. — Terri from Child of the Nature Isle is determined to walk with her family on the road less travelled whether you like it or not!
  • Saying "I'm Right and You're Wrong" Seldom Does Much To Improve Your Cause... — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment writes about how living by example motivates her actions and interactions with others.
  • Have another kid and you won't care — Cassie of There's a Pickle in My Life, after having her second child, knows exactly how to respond to opposing advice.
  • Ten Tips to Communicate Respectfully, Even When You Disagree — What if disagreements with our partners, our children or even complete strangers ultimately led to more harmony and deeper connections? They can! Dionna at Code Name: Mama shares ten tips to strengthen our relationships in the midst of conflict.
  • A Little Light Conversation — Zoie at TouchstoneZ explains why respect needs to be given to every parent unconditionally.
  • Why I used to hide the formula box — Laura at Pug in the Kitchen finally talks about how judgement between parents changed her views on how she handles differences in parenting.
  • Assumptions — Nada at minimomist discusses how not everyone is able to nurse, physically, mentally, or emotionally.
  • Shushing Your Inner Judgey McJudgerson — Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction knows that judging others is easy to do, but recognizing that we all parent from different perspectives takes work.
  • Respectfully Interacting with Others Online — Lani at Boobie Time Blog discusses the importance of remaining respectful behind the disguise of the internet.
  • Presumption of Good Will — Why — and how — Crunchy Con Mommy is going to try to assume the best of people she disagrees with on important issues.
  • Being Gracious with Parenting Advice — Tips for giving and receiving parenting advice with grace from Lisa at My World Edenwild.
  • Explain, Smile, Escape — Don't know what to do when you're confronted by another parent who disagrees with you? Amy at Anktangle shares a story from her life along with a helpful method for navigating these types of tricky situations (complete with a handy flow chart!).
  • Balancing Cultures and ChoicesDulce de leche discusses the challenges of walking the tightrope between generations while balancing cultural and family ties.
  • Linky - Parenting Peacefully with Social MediaHannabert's Mom discusses parenting in a social media world.


Lindsay said...

One of the things I've found most helpful in my relationship with my mom-which has been a bit bumpy as I've chosen a much different parenting path than she did-is to ask questions and listen about the advice she received from doctors and society when I was a baby and then talk about how it is different now. It helps frame our different choices more fairly-not that, like you said, I am rejecting her, but that I have "greater tools and resources" :)

Lani @ Boobie Time Blog said...

I love this post because sometimes with my parents I feel like a child again question my own decisions. And you make great points as standing strong while being respectful I love this point."However, how can I teach my children about healthy ways to handle disagreements and standing firm in their convictions if they don’t see me practice it?"

Unknown said...

I envy the built-in community that you have with such a close extended-family network. I recognize, also, that the benefits of that family structure does come with a tricky balancing act between independence and making your own choices and honoring others' wisdom and also validating their life experiences. It sounds like you're finding an perfect path for you to share and meld your experiences into something that works beautifully for the whole family!

Lauren Wayne said...

I really appreciate your perspective for this carnival. Sometimes I feel like I'm "cheating" by having moved far away from my extended family so that there's no need to day-in-day-out figure out ways to work through the areas of conflict. I'll take your words to heart for when we do come in contact with each other, and I hope my children might have a closer relationship still with me when they have their own children, if I can figure out how to model that!

Hannah, Horn, and Hannabert said...

I completely feel like expressing how we are planning to do things comes across like my parents are ignorant (which they are not) and I worry about offending them when they offer suggestions we don't take. This is coupled with the fact that my parents live 9 hrs away and my husband parents are just 1 hr away. I often wonder if my mom wonders if I listen to my MIL more than I listen to her. For the record, I listen to both equally and discard most of what they say.

Rosa said...

Thank you for this! I'm lucky that my mom is totally onboard with our parenting - but my partner's mom totally is not. Even on basic things, like not spanking our son, we can't trust her. But he loves her, and wants to visit/stay with her, and I want to give him that closeness. The daughter-in-law thing makes it even harder.

I'm trying to be less defensive and more open with her, while not giving up on important boundaries. Distance makes it easier and harder - more time to reflect and regroup between visits, but fewer, longer, more weighted time together.

Lisa C said...

Beautiful post. I regret that I have never asked my mom for parenting advice. I just wanted to do everything different and felt so much confidence in myself and my choices that I've never felt the need. I wonder if it disappoints her? She's probably still waiting for me to say, "you were right" about some thing she said or did when I was a kid. Yet, I do appreciate her so much as my mother and grandmother to my child. I've just gotta figure out ways to express that more!

I've actually avoided writing about certain topics like spanking because she spanked us sometimes, and I don't want to make her feel guilty about it. Yet, like with your family, she was more gentle than her mom, who was more gentle than her.

Thanks for this reminder to show my mom more appreciation!

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

What a wonderful post on bridging our (generational) differences with love. And I like your point about modeling standing firm in the face of disagreement - and respectfully, at that!

dulce de leche said...

Thank you all so much for sharing your experiences and for all of the kind words and encouragement. Family relationships are challenging, aren't they? I am so grateful for all of the wisdom, peace and love that you all share!

Betsy (Eco-novice) said...

I am a gringa but have a suegra (my husband is Colombian), so I have much to learn from this post. Mostly I try to steer clear of these conversations all together. I know she thinks I'm a weirdo for breastfeeding at all... along with everything else. I'm glad I've convinced my husband at least!

Sheila said...

I wish, wish, wish I had that kind of family involvement! It helps that I agree with my mom about 90% of everything and my MIL about maybe 70%, and they are both extremely respectful about my decisions anyway. Meanwhile our own grandparents, though they didn't raise children the way we do, seem to be coming around as well. My husband's grandma was near tears watching me interact with my son, saying "I wish someone had ever told me it was all right to follow my instincts!" In a way, we can heal our parents and grandparents by showing them a new way. It can take a long time, though, and preaching doesn't seem to do the trick.

Still, count your blessings that you have them all around like that. Your children are lucky to be raised among so much family.