Thursday, September 11, 2014

Parenting shifts

While I was growing up, I wished I could trade moms with my friends. Mine seemed to act put out that I even existed, was unstable and sometimes just plain mean. Even if I won some award at school, my mom wouldn't show up or she would act all huffy that she had to take time off work since the principal had requested that she show up. So even positive things, like getting Student of the Year, became a bad memory for me because she was resentful that day and then would lash out. Why ever be proud of anything because she was going to tear me down for it? As a result, I became extremely self-sufficient and resourceful.

Looking back now--decades later--I've almost grown an appreciation for her childrearing style. In comparison to how I was raised, children are so freaking coddled now. And I'm expected to coddle my own child. How are we supposed to raise self-sufficient kids with the proper amount of self-esteem (not too low but not too entitled) when you're constantly scheduling them with three different concurrent sports, playdates every weekend, and battling for them with their teachers? Then you're expected to go to the PTA events and meetings, bake cookies for the bake sale, volunteer in the classroom every week. My mother did NONE of that. She had no interest in making playdates for me; we didn't even have "playdates" back then. I was never allowed to be in sports because she had to work, and the YMCA van picked me up right after school. While I didn't have problems with any of my teachers, she never attended any conferences or open houses. She went to 0 PTA meetings and would never volunteer for anything. Although volunteering in the classroom didn't seem as prevalent back then.

In many ways, I think I am lucky because I learned how to rely on myself at such a young age. I could navigate airports by age 8, create a master college class plan, including requirements plus classes in my major and minor with a four-year schedule, before I even stepped foot in the college classroom. I could amortize loans by the time I was 16 since my mom lent me $2,200 for my first car, which I had to pay back at a 6% interest rate compounded monthly. (I paid it back in ten months since I worked.) I got my first job at 15, and it was working at Merrill Lynch. I brought in all my report cards for the past few years as well as examples of my writing and math skills. I was hired because of the materials I brought and how I presented them. I was appointed to a city commission at 15 and became chairperson by 16.

My internal conflict is that I know I need to have a softer touch with my own daughter than my mom had with me, and I think I do, but I don't want to be so coddling that my daughter doesn't harness her inner strength. As crappy as it was to live with my mom, there were valuable parts. Even if your mom tries to tear you apart, you have to hold to your convictions and feel confident that you're building something bigger down the line.

Meeting my husband was awesome. I felt supported in almost anything I did, which was a weird and foreign concept. But I do have to admit that some of the fire has dissipated in me. Back then I think I was so focused on getting away from my mom that I knew I had to have excellent grades, excellent community service, money saved from my jobs, my own car. If I could juggle all of that, then something had to work out. I would be able to get into college, and I could have my own resources and skills to find a job, and maybe I could use my excellent grades and references on scholarship applications. The goal being that even if she completely cut me off, I could still make progress toward my dreams.

I have some inner dialogue since it feels like I'm expected to coddle my child so much more now than the cultural expectation in the 80s and 90s when I was a kid, and even the coddling bar back then when we didn't coddle nearly as much was far higher than what my mom did. I feel really out of my element, but I need to take my daughter in context of today's cultural expectations and not carry any bitterness about my mom's parenting into my own parenting.