My parenting style is radically different from that of my mom. She is a worrier, always convinced that the worst is about to happen. I’m not necessarily an optimist, but I’m convinced that somehow, it’ll all work out in the end. Those beliefs come out in our parenting styles in a major way.
My mom was a helicopter parent before the term was coined. She attended not just every game I was ever in but every practice. When she was part of a babysitting co-op, she never left us with anyone in the group and instead always offered to be the babysitter. Anything that went wrong, she immediately jumped in to fix.
And that isn’t a bad thing. She loves my sister and I (see, present tense, not just when we were cute kids), and that was her way of showing it. I always knew that I was loved and that her world revolved around me. We were stars in her world, and we knew we’d always be safe and protected, even if we thought she was a little overboard.
I can see some of the flaws in that, however. Because she always rushed in to save me, it was a long time before I learned that I was capable of saving myself. I might have taken more risks than I should have in some aspects because I knew that someone else would fix it before it became a problem. And I might have developed a slightly out of proportion perception of my own worth and abilities, given what I was told (in some respects – in others, I always felt that I would never measure up).
As I grew, I rejected some of what she did. I didn’t want her hovering. I didn’t want her fixing. I wanted to do things on my own. She didn’t need to find a job for me in high school; I could find my own. And I did. I ignored pain because it became an overblown issue for her, and it wasn’t how I wanted to be treated.
With my own kids, I know that things will turn out for the best. Somehow. I will do what I can to smooth their paths, but they need to be the ones to walk them.
That’s all well and good, but when I worked full time and my mother was my primary caregiver for my children most days, the conflicting parenting styles came into sharp relief. When my toddler son would fall over, my mom would immediately rush in and scoop him up and coo to him to ensure he was ok. And if he cried, she would make a huge fuss over him and pay even more attention to him than usual.
You can imagine what happened next, right? My son became the one who cried at the slightest mishap. Things that wouldn’t faze another child had him sobbing, with the expectation that the adult nearest him would then spoil him – as a toddler and two year old and three year old, I could see this happening. It’s not an attractive trait in any child to be the crybaby, but in a boy where we live, that’s just asking for trouble.
And so we’ve clashed over the years in our parenting of my children. My first reaction when I see or hear something is to ensure that everyone is ok. When you ran into the wall, are you going to end up with a minor bruise (like the 20 I am sporting from doing the same thing) or did you knock yourself out or is it somewhere in between? When ice or cuddling is called for, I offer it unstintingly. But when you’re wimpering just because? Don’t be that kid.
We instituted the “no blood no foul” rule in our house, that we use tongue in cheek. It isn’t literal. It isn’t a rule that if there’s no blood then there’s no injury and tough it out. The meaning has been explained to my 9 and 11 year old, and they understand that I expect minor injuries to be treated like minor injuries. We all stub our toes. Rub it. Walk it out. Don’t sit on the floor and cry hysterically because unfortunately the real world isn’t a fan of that kind of behavior.
I remember my mom typing up book reports for me that I would dictate to her because it was easier than me typing them or even writing them out. When the wee ones have homework, I expect them to do it themselves. I help whenever there’s something they can’t figure out, but I don’t simply tell them the answer. We work through the steps together so they can (hopefully) solve the next one on their own. And if they delayed a project and didn’t get it finished in time? That’s their problem, and they need to talk to their teachers.
In a way, I’m a mean mom for pushing them, but they know I love them. We spend quality time together where we’re just chilling and doing things they enjoy. I praise them routinely for the effort they make and point out how well they do because of it. I can see the pride in their eyes when they accomplish something on their own, and I love recognizing that to them. I tell them and show them that I love them unconditionally, and they know it. They tell me they know it.
But I’m going to push them out of the nest. And when I do, I know they’ll be able to fly because they’ve been testing their wings and practicing flying for a long, long time.
This post was inspired by the From Left to Write Book Club January selection, “If I Fall, If I Die” by Michael Christie, about a boy who’s never been outside, thanks to his mother’s agoraphobia but who ventures outside in order to solve a mystery. Join From Left to Write on January 22nd as we discuss If I Fall, If I Die. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.