Diverging from your childhood; co-parenting with your parents.
When I speak to parents that I’ve met, my friends in groups and those that I’ve met over in online spaces, I find that most of us are parenting in ways that differ to how they themselves were parented. And I’m almost certain that many of our own parents would say the same thing.
No parent is perfect. We make mistakes and we wish we’d done that certain thing different. We regret that word that came out sharper than intended. I think we all look introspectively and find things inside ourselves that we’d prefer not to pass onto our children; elements of our upbringings that we don’t want to recreate.
And when it comes to gentler styles of parenting, I would dare to say that those instances grow. When you parent in ways that diverge from the mainstream, it’s likely that you are taking a far different path from that of 20 to 40 years ago.
For the first time since I was nineteen years old I am living under the same roof as my parents, and this time with a toddler and husband in tow. Seven years on and some things have not changed. Me and my sister still descend into laughter that no one else can understand and neither one of us can remember why it began. My dad still leaves the house in the early hours, and my mum is still not a morning person. The evening mealtime and tidying up takes on the same patter that lies in the layered years we hold between us. In some ways our situation feels so the same, that well-rehearsed and familiar tick of family living that you can relax into, but yet still so different. I’m mothering a child while being mothered by my own. And I’m mothering in some ways that I know to be unlike those that my parents might recognise from twenty-odd years ago.
I’m not in the everyday situation, that is to be sure, but I know many parents that rely on their own for a day or two of childcare a week or those that simply see their parents on a regular basis. It can feel tricky to parent in the ways that you want, the ways that feel good to you, while being overlooked by someone who may not have done the same. Sometimes it can feel like by creating this new path you are actually condemning or judging what your parents did, and in worse cases it can feel like they are disapproving of your own methods. While neither of those things may actually be true, it can cause some self-doubt or ill-feeling on either side.
It’s not always the most straight-forward of conversations to approach. Particularly when we are keen not to cause hurt to those we love. But if you are struggling with a situation like the above, I do believe we can have these conversations in ways that feel good to all parties and lead to a better outcome for our children.
And the most powerful way to do so? To be gentle in our approach, just as we are with our children. As our children are not inherently bad, neither are many of our parents. I know that in my lucky instance, my parents still hold the same desires for me as they did for the child I was. They want the best for us all, still. They hold within their hearts the same unconditional love that burns in my own for my daughter. When they have successfully brought up a child into a mother of her own, they do have a degree of wisdom that feels the need to be shared. So I do listen. But it also doesn’t mean I have to agree.
We talk. I slowly, slowly pepper my views into the words we share. I don’t bombard them with do’s or don’ts. I joke. We have fun all together. And I parent in the way that I am fiercely passionate about, no holds barred. I hope they see it, and I know that they do. But it’s not always easy and I am not always calm.
It is hard to watch your child be spoken to in ways that don’t align with your values. I have snapped. But, more powerfully, I have also not. I have instead affirmed her feelings myself, and then we have had a proper conversation about it later away from small eyes.
It’s much easier to drag another over the coals for things that we do daily and often. I don’t believe anyone is completely the parent that they would wish to be, and peaceful parenting in itself feels like a constant battle of working against things that have been ingrained in ourselves since childhood. I know that I don’t always extend others the same grace that I give myself, and that’s deeply unfair on them.
If we want to create family systems that are strong and dependable, I believe that we do also need to allow those around us to make choices in the way they interact with children. There are some views I hold that are steadfast and some things that I won’t let happen. Bodily autonomy, for one. But equally when my parents are looking after Eilish, I let them call the shots. Just as I have boundaries so do they. We are all layered and multi-faceted humans, and to try to translate the same set of values across to another’s home doesn’t work. This is their home after all, and if they don’t like her pouring water on the patio floor then so be it.
I think instead; is it worth it? If you are their main carer, the person that your child depends on for the highest proportion of their waking moments, then you are the influential figure in their lives. How much time to do your parents (or anyone!) share in comparison? Your own actions are far outweighing those of anyone else. Are they loving your child with the intensity they deserve? That is important to me. Are they forcing kisses and hugs upon her? That is important to me. Do they call her “good girl” and applaud her achievements? To me, the impact of that action is minimal. I let it go.
I see the joy in them being reunited with her. I see how dearly they watch her every movement, and I hear her shrieks of delight when one or the other arrive home from work. We are not prescribing a way to parent. We are muddling through working together, and I am letting things go. Because, at the end of the day, the love shared is far more important.