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Mum’s the Word

Oil and water were we.

My mother was not malicious, nor was she cruel. My mother truly loved me, but I believe she was ignorant when it came to parenting.

Stifling a pang of guilt, I feel remorse when I have negative thoughts regarding her. Consciously deciding to raise my son with a different parenting philosophy though, I tried fervently to break a cycle of familial pathology. One aspect of mom’s early childhood educating bothered me tremendously…

“Spare the rod and spoil the child” was the parenting vogue during the 1950s in the USA. Corporal punishment was handed out freely and my folks used spanking as a means to their end. My mother was not quite adept at handing out punishment and that was left to my father as he arrived home from work (I always felt this was unjustified as dad had no issues with me, yet he would walk in the door and hear a litany of my day’s sins).

My parents passed away years ago and I dearly miss them both. Truly. I would give my right arm to have a chance to make amends with mom and vice versa… to end on a loving note.

We each get one biological set of parents. Generally speaking, a child has an incredibly tight bond with the parent of the same gender. Although I adored my dad, the metaphorical umbilical cord seemed to stay attached far too long in my case. Mom drove me crazy, more or less literally. Anxiety, depression, O.C.D. and self-injurious behaviours may have been brought about by our unhealthy relationship but, she was my mom after all.

Dear mom was raised on a dusty chicken farm in the Midwest during the 1920s. Recalling my history, I know that her poverty stricken young life was full of discord and fear. Grandpa beat both my mother and grandmother. This happened fairly frequently I was told, as his addiction to alcohol appeared to be a trigger.

Interestingly, mom felt that a good smack was in line for her ‘naughty child’ and spanking was a daily ritual. At a young age I stated aloud, “When I have kids I will NEVER hit them or call them names!” Once a mother, I stuck to that declaration. Hitting seems to serve only domineering purposes; the bigger, stronger person wins and authority figures may hit. (I recall standing in line at a store. In front of me was a mom with a two-year-old girl in a stroller. This little one stuck her tongue out at me and swiped at me, hand in a fist. The mother, red in face, walloped this wee child stating, “We don’t hit!!”)

I put this question out to my female colleagues and friends; “Do you parent in the same manner as your mom? If not, why?”

I received about a dozen responses and not one lady answered, “yes.” Here are a few of those responses;

Kathy – “I loved my mother dearly and she did teach me manners and my love for animals, but I had virtually no parental supervision growing up. Mom was an alcoholic and suffered from major depressive disorder. She didn’t drive and was either sleeping, watching TV or housecleaning. I swore that I would be there for my children to do things with them like trips to the library, hiking, coaching soccer, class mom, etc. Kids will be kids and there is only so much we can teach them as parents. We do our best as parents but their future is up to them. My mom did the best job she could raising four children and I think she did a fantastic job. As for me, when people ask what was your favorite job, my answer will always be raising my children.”

Anonymous – “There are definitely things that I have the same perspective as my mum on, but a lot of things I do differently as a direct result of the experience of my childhood/teenage years. I didn’t have a bad childhood at all, it was very happy and I got on well with my mum and still do. I actually believe my mum was too lenient and gave me too much freedom. I was raised in a very open household where anything could be discussed and there was no reason to keep secrets (although I still did). I agree with this outlook and adopt the same for my children. They can come to me and my wife to talk about anything without judgement and we have open discussions about politics, religion, sex, drugs and alcohol. We encourage debate and challenging opinions.

BUT we are much more strict in our opinions about what is right and wrong. For example, I was told that if I tried drugs I should do it in a safe way with friends etc. My mum says this was because she felt she shouldn’t restrict whatever experiences I wanted to try. Whilst I adopt the approach of giving my (hypocritical) opinion that they shouldn’t try things like drugs because of the bad side, I’ll discuss the positive aspects and why people take them and how to be safe but will always conclude that it would be a mistake. This is the biggest difference because I feel if I was guided more than being left to experience whatever I wanted to that I maybe wouldn’t have made some of the mistakes I have done.”

 Alyson – “Mine is different for sure. I am strict like she was, but not as bad. Everything in moderation is more my theme. My mom was more like do as I say, now.”

Rebecca – “Ah yes! Right, I don’t think my parenting philosophy is close to my mum’s at all as my mum went down the lines of very smothering love and wasn’t strict at all, I was spoilt rotten. She’s now exactly the same way with my son. I don’t think this did me any good as it’s probably the cause of many of my bad character traits and I try to be the opposite. I don’t smother, I give love and attention when I should but I don’t overdo it. I make sure he’s independent as well. I’m also pretty strict with my rules.”

Jenn – “I did not parent the same way as my mother. Times have changed so much that I believe parenting has also changed. For example, I wasn’t taught to stand up for myself. I raised my daughter to always be assertive. I didn’t raise her to initiate fights, but I did encourage her to protect herself. She carries a legal-size knife in her purse and has been instructed as to the proper way to use it. I also carry one.”

Mothering is far from straight forward and is challenging for all. We’ve all made our fair share of mistakes and hopefully none were too scarring.

“In a child’s eyes, a mother is a goddess. She can be glorious or terrible, benevolent or filled with wrath, but she commands love either way. I am convinced that this is the greatest power in the universe.”
– N.K. Jemisin


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