#93 And Thoughts About Parenting
Last March, I met my great-granddaughter - she was two days old and precious beyond words. My heart cried with joy when I held her for the first time.
I was in the ninth decade of life, sharing this unique experience with four generations of my family. Many people, including my husband Dan, didn’t have that opportunity.
Times have changed over those 80 + years - in so many ways. One change has to do with parenting styles. I watch my grandson and his wife parent this baby very differently than the way my parents raised my brother and me. Let me explain.
My memory says that our parents loved us, and their parenting style was authoritarian. Their love was conditional; they withheld it when we didn’t follow the rules:
children are to be seen and not heard
don’t talk back or argue
I am the parent, do as I say - now
Dad worked long hours - WWII was raging. Mom was the homemaker and took care of us unless we needed a spanking - then Dad was in charge. There was always food on the table, a roof over our heads, and clean clothes on our backs. As a family, we occasionally played games and went on yearly vacations, but most of the time, my brother and I entertained ourselves or played outside with friends.
For various reasons, they chose to make most of the decisions. Mom picked out my clothes for years. Dad got us our first jobs at the company where we worked.
You could say, “they were just taking care of you, how sweet.” And they were! Yet, those house rules and that parenting style were also handicapping. We had to do as we were told. There was no discussion. That left little room for trying things on our own and gaining confidence in our ability to make intelligent decisions.
Fast-forward 22 years. Our son, born prematurely, was three-weeks-old before we held him. Our daughter was born two years later.
I knew nothing about parenting - other than what Dr. Spock and our family doctor said. One thing was clear, though. I wanted to raise my children unlike my brother and I were raised. I wanted us to have a different relationship with our kids.
Oh, I tried spankings, but that didn’t work too well. I also tried forcing them to eat new foods. Bribery was not out of the question - a quarter if they ate a tablespoon of cottage cheese. That didn’t work, either.
My parents had family rules; Dan and I developed parenting strategies:
listen and discuss rather than punish
accept and support rather than judge
set clear boundaries and let natural consequences occur
love unconditionally and be involved
I worked in the school district where the kids went to school, so we had the same schedule. I did most of the child-rearing. Dan traveled for work and had a small at-home business. I don’t recall him changing diapers, but he was involved in their lives.
We went camping and boating, played a lot of ping-pong, and spent hours at the pinball machines in the basement. My daughter and I began our shared love of art with a ceramic class. I still have pieces she made in 1977. The guys had ham radio set-ups, built projects in the workshop, and worked together in the business.
Fast forward 30 years. Both children got married and had families. They seem to have adopted and applied many of those parenting strategies even though their situations were more complex.
The day our son got married, he became a husband, father, and grandfather. As a step-father, he supported and guided his family - accepting and offering advice but not requiring adherence.
After our daughter decided to be a stay-at-home mom, she spent hours working at the boys’ school. Their Dad attended every hockey and baseball game, offered advice, and traveled to tournaments. They both raised their sons - supporting, guiding, and allowing them to be who they were.
We lived next door to them for nine years, and our older grandson lived with us during his college years. We played cards with the grandkids nightly, bowled with them in a league, and shared many fun times together.
Fast forward another 30 years. Today, my grandson and his wife seem well-prepared to care for a child. They are creating a solid foundation for their daughter - working with her in ways unknown in 1960. Three great examples are
teaching her sign language so she can communicate until she has words
using a process called baby-led-weaning, which allows her to eat safe, modified versions of the same foods they do and helps avoid food allergies
teaching her how to put herself to sleep without crying it out as discussed in this article
They play with her, nuzzle her, and help her build skills. I recently asked my grandson if they would every spank her. He said no.
Mom works part-time, and Dad is self-employed - they share baby duties. They both change her diapers, feed her, and take her places, so she feels comfortable with new people and places.
Parenting has come a long way since I was a child - from a rule that says be seen and not heard coupled with conditional love to their involvement coupled with unconditional love.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
I hope that being involved in our children’s lives, spending time with them, setting boundaries, and allowing them to try their ideas, even though we disagreed, helped them become successful adults. They do seem to have the confidence and decision-making skills I lacked.
Would that parenting strategy work today? I’m not sure. Times have changed, life is busy, and real dangers exist for children that were never considered. Parents must contend with social media and are pulled in many directions. Kids have tough challenges from bullying to school-shootings.
I do think that being involved -but not overly so - and unconditional love can be positive pieces of a child’s foundation and that parenting strategies like the ones being used with my great grand-daughter will add to her having a successful life - whatever that may look like.
As a grandparent, parent, or future parent, what do you think?
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