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.


jojo cucina cucina said...

I often bitch about the over coddling of children today . I can't stand watching parents give up so much power to their children and making the world revolve around them I feel sorry for teachers who have some of those kids in the classroom too and have to put up with the helicopter moms.

I am like you in that i don't think i would change a thing about my terrible upbringing where everything revolved more around my parents needs instead of we four children. They too never went to open houses, or did anything special about honor awards. I'm fine with growing up self sufficient, though i have to say that while i supported myself out of high school without getting any money from my parents i didn't do what you did! Your accomplishments are amazing and you should be so proud of yourself.

Here's the thing that i get pissed about though. I don't want to have to do more for my parents in their old age than they did for me as a child. My mom is haranguing me about throwing an 80th bday party for my dad and my brothers and i don't want to. They never threw a bday party for us ever and yet feel entitled to their own. (At least my mom does.) She bulldozed us into throwing a 50th anniversary party, complete with rented hall, catering, and music and alcohol and it cost my siblings and me $1500 each.

So i don't mind growing up as i did, i just don't want the obligation of doing for them what they never did for me.

I think you are smart to be aware of the fine line between not doing too much for your daughter that she doesn't know how to fend for herself. You are so self aware of your parenting that i feel certain your daughter is going to grow up to be amazing like you. And it gives me hope seeing parents like you, my friend Sarah, my two brothers, who also raised really great people who know how to move along in this crazy world.

B said...

She's only 6, so I could very well be screwing her up.

I have to realize that I'm still kind of bitter about the lack of affection/support growing up, and that has tainted me.

So unfair that you had to throw that big party for your parents! I'd be very bitter about it, particularly if they never did anything like that when growing up.

I HATE to be tit for tat, but for better or worse that's how I think with my mom. About ten years ago, she had foot surgery. For a few weeks she wanted me to come see her after work, and I had to get her food ready and do her dishes since she couldn't get around well. I hated it, mostly because I knew she would never do anything like that for me. I dread her growing older. She's one of those who will refuse to go to assisted living, and I do not think I have the patience for years/decades of being her servant. I suck!

jojo cucina cucina said...

If you suck, then I suck, and I refuse to think I suck, so therefore you don't suck. You just feel more guilty.

I agree about tit for tat and yet I know I do this. I have a couple of friends who are cheap and I find myself being less generous than I normally might be with them. Same with attention . Even funerals I will think to myself... Would they come to my parent's funeral? ... And if I can't imagine them being there I might decide not to go to their mom or dad's funeral.

Hmmmm.... Maybe I do suck. But so what !

B said...

At least we realize this about ourselves! I want to be better about putting myself in the other person's shoe and not the tit for tat stuff, but it's hard!

jojo cucina cucina said...

Yes, indeedy it IS hard! I know that it would be a better character trait to lead by example instead of behaving as I do, but I can't help but feel phony pretending I am the no -judgment, tolerant type. The trick is choosing my relationships carefully so I don't walk around every day feeling like I really totally suck as a human being!

I think your blog is cathartic for me! Hahaha.

jojo cucina cucina said...

And truthfully there are so many suckier people than you and me because they don't even worry about such things! Many of them are WEA folks!

I talked with a couple of folks from my office just yesterday and got riled up listening to some of their stories from the office. So glad to be gone but will be subbing in Nov-Dec. part-time while the other Jo i has to be out. Hope I don't have to up my blood pressure medication! I wonder if my doctor will give me some more Xanax like i got for flying to Italy.

B said...

Choosing friendships wisely is very smart. It's easy to like those people who are most "like me"--i.e., cynical, easily exasperated, see into situations for true motivations.

But I have to keep in mind that I shouldn't surround myself completely like me because I won't get pushed out of my comfort zone and see other perspectives.