It’s hard being a parent. I think it always has been hard being a parent. Even with the village. Sometimes because of the village.
These days it’s hard because mostly, parents have to wade that ocean of raising their children alone. Inevitably, we look to the “golden olden” days where babies were passed from mother, to father, to grandmother/father, to aunt/uncle, to a friend to be raised. Where the burden of responsibility for caring for, raising, nourishing, loving this child did not fall solely on two people, or mainly, one person. Throw on top of this the expectation that mother/father must have a successful career, a perfect home that is always perfectly clean and feed their children perfectly healthy food and dress them perfectly.
All. The. Time.
Or we look to tribal communities in the Amazon forest where children are passed from one member of the tribe to another, raised by a whole community, breastfed by any obliging mother with milk, and we think, oh gosh, how nice would it be to have such an insular, secure village to raise our children in? What is wrong with us today that we are so alone in raising our children and fiercely adamant to do it this way?
I’m somewhat cynical? realistic? about the whole village ideal. I’m pretty sure judgement, wrong decisions, parenting/village fails, destructive slander and so on did occur in such societies with some messed up adults coming out of them too. Don’t get me wrong, I do think it is important for a village system to exist, as children need extended family. No one person can offer a child everything in terms of their growth. Mum can’t and shouldn’t be everything for their children. Children will learn unique lessons from every individual who plays a part in their upbringing.
The point is, there is no perfect system, and there is no perfect way to raise our children. We simply have to do our best.
But do we actually take a step back, as parents, and ask ourselves if we ARE doing our best?
I feel like we’ve reached this point of “political correctness”, or more correctly a lack of courage in actually making judgements for the sake of “safety and improvement” (as a friend of mine recently pointed out) that parents are given this free pass when it comes to the decisions that they make for their children. Or in the way they raise their children.
Parents these days seem to be constantly on the defensive. Absolutely no one can look at someone’s parenting and say, “hey, maybe you could be doing *so and so better” because they will essentially be faced with the equivalent of a lioness protecting her kill. She will tear you up man.
“I am doing my absolute best!”
“I am the parent here, and you don’t even have kids, so you have NO RIGHT to give me ANY ADVICE!”
“I work full time and I am SO TIRED, don’t judge me for giving them McDonalds for dinner!!”
“I am JUST TRYING TO SURVIVE and that’s why I just give them the iPad.”
“I need some PEACE.”
“I need me-time.”
Look, I am a parent. I have used more than one of the above lines numerous times. But what I am realising four and a half years into this gig is that usually, I use those excuses when I feel that my ego has been bruised, or to excuse my laziness, or simply as an instinctive defence mechanism without giving myself a second to think about what the person is suggesting, a person like my mum.
And the parent/grandparent battle is unlike any other that exists. Especially with ethnic parents/grandparents. Oh. My. God. SO MUCH SENSITIVITY. From both parties.
The parents just want to do everything differently to the way they were raised, and grandparents, well, grandparents will shoot back with, “well I raised you and you turned out fine so…” Coupled with the ethnic mentality that parents OWN their children and therefore their children literally never grow up in their eyes and they don’t see them as separate, thinking adults who can make their own decisions, and raise their own children. Oh and throw in the fierce and entirely crazy love that they have for the long-awaited GRAND CHILD and you get some messed up issues between parents and grandparents.
Issues like grandparents not respecting the rules that parents put down for their children, not being able to handle the way that the grandchildren are disciplined, going so far as to undercut a parent IN FRONT of the child when discipline is being meted out… Spoiling the children with things they know have been banned or not allowed by the parents…
It is damn difficult for parents to deal with these things, especially since they actually shouldn’t have to deal with behaviour like this. From the grandparents…
At the same time, what we as parents absolutely must uphold and model for our own children is how to respect our elders, especially our own parents and in-laws.
When I gave birth to my first child, it was such a tentative time in my consolidation of what it even meant to be a parent. For me to figure out what it meant for me to be a mother, and in trying to figure out what type of mother I was. For me to form a bond and relationship with my daughter. I was also fiercely protective over my daughter and our budding relationship. And whilst I was trying to figure this all out I had to face the questions, the “suggestions”, the advice from everyone around me. It’s like I was under a magnifying glass for everyone to look through and make an observation.
And I struggled. I’d burst into tears for seemingly no reason. I was VERY defensive and sensitive. I couldn’t handle the slightest observation that my daughter was VERY skinny and didn’t seem to be thriving, so maybe you should just give her some formula as well? Or give her JUST formula, it won’t hurt. You don’t REALLY NEED to breastfeed.
Now that I am two children down with another one on the way (due December. I know right? CRAZY!) I know I can handle the “suggestions” during the newborn phase better. But I still struggle with taking on board advice as my daughters grow. I’m still defensive.
That newborn phase is a good time to reflect on and to inform the nature of the parent/grandparent relationship. Parents need support, no doubt. They need to be surrounded by a community of loving, caring and helpful people. Because no, we can’t do it alone. At the same time, it needs to be a community that is respectful and prudent in knowing when to say what and how to deliver it, when to give parents space and when to be all in.
At the same time, we parents need to, simply put, get over ourselves. Guess what? Just because we became parents, it does not mean that we suddenly know everything. We need to toughen up and take on some advice, take on board some (constructive) criticism. And even if/when some advice/suggestions are plain stupid or delivered in a judgemental and negative manner, we need to develop the skills to respond appropriately and respectfully.
Because hey, isn’t this how we’d want our own children to be? Is it not our duty to positively and constructively advise, reprimand and teach our own children as they navigate their way through this world? Will we not offer them our own experience of parenting when they become parents? Do we want them to tell us to just “butt out”, that it’s “none of our business” that they are just “DOING THEIR BEST” (when it comes to anything they attempt to do in life, not just parenting), when maybe, just maybe, they actually aren’t?
What I am essentially saying is that parents and grandparents (along with other family/community members and friends) must work together to meet somewhere in the middle of this whole raising children thing. Essentially, all parties have the same intentions, to contribute to the raising of good, beautiful, strong charactered children who will be positive and constructive members of society, and ultimately, devout servants of Allah.
No one person can claim to have ALL THE KNOWLEDGE considering that there are unique challenges in our modern day that, say, the grandparents did not have to face. But parents must also recognise, accept and embrace the fact that wisdom, true wisdom is not subject to the times. They endure. And hey, the grandparents do have wisdom.
What experiences have you had with all the “parenting advice”? How do you navigate the relationship with grandparents?
Featured image via Modern Hepburn.