Parenting: The Sober Side
As my daughter edges closer and closer to adulthood, there are many things about parenting that have been on my mind. As some of you know, my daughter and I have a very functional, dynamic, respectful, communicative relationship. Usually when I share the nature of our relationship with people they tell me how lucky I am. Let me tell you,
luck had nothing to do with it.
I worked my ass off — my ASS OFF — from the moment she was born to ensure that we would have a mutually respectful, loving and functional relationship when she became a teen. My sole goal in raising her when she was a baby, toddler, kid, to tween was to make sure that we got along when she was a teen. I knew that meant putting in long hours — working on myself and working with her — and it was worth it.
I am an accidental mom. I did not really choose to be a mom, never thought about having kids. I had my kid sort of because my then husband wanted a family and I went along for the ride. It wasn’t until my kid was born that it really hit me what a GYNORMOUS responsibility I had landed in. And I took (and take) it very, very seriously.
But it was hard for me. And there were lessons that I learned along the way that I think might be of interest to others who have kids and those who might be thinking about having kids. So, I want to share them. I’m writing a multi-part blog piece called “Parenting: The Sober Side.” Here’s Part I:
Learning to Respect.
Absolutely critical to my approach to parenting was that I respect my kid. Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t idolize her, I didn’t admire her, I didn’t spoil her, I didn’t dote on her. I r-e-s-p-e-c-t her. What does that mean?
Well, when she was an infant, it meant that I deferred to her opinions, when and if the occasion allowed for it. For instance, about 2 weeks after she was born I wanted to get her a mobile for her crib. I went to Baby’s R Us and there was a sea of mobiles set up over tons of cribs. I saw the one I thought was good - it was bright colored, kind of wild looking. I put her in the crib it was attached to, started up the mobile. Nothing. She just laid there staring. So, I put her in other cribs and started up the mobiles and watched her response. For the next 15 mobiles, she just laid in the crib staring up at the mobile, looking at me, looking above her (she couldn’t roll over yet). Then, on the 17th — these plain brown bears with blue polka dotted bows around their necks and a plain white stand (boooooring, I thought) — she lost it. Arms and legs flailing, kicking, huge smiles, hiccup-like laughter. It was as if I pressed her “on” button when I turned on the mobile. Just to make sure, I put her in three more cribs where she sat and looked blankly at the mobiles and then returned her to the bears. Same crazy ass response. She obviously had some connection to those bears. So, I bought the bears.
Never, in a million years, would I have chosen those bears for my kid. But even at 2 weeks of age, she had an opinion and I validated it by going with what she wanted vs. what I liked. How many times do we pick things for our kid’s rooms, clothes, lives that suit OUR tastes. Why would we do that? How would you feel if you Mom came into your house NOW and chose your china pattern? You wouldn’t.
By choosing things for our kids that WE like, we teach children from the get-go that what THEY like DOESN’T MATTER. That they don’t have opinions, ideas, independent thought or aesthetics until they’re older (like what? 13? 17? 30?). My daugther has had opiinions since she was born and I have honored them since that time. We don’t always see eye to eye, but we talk about why she has her opinions and I talk about why I have mine. And this has been one of the fundamental components of our mutual respect.
Now just in case some reader decides to get this twisted: Don’t mix up respect with abdication of responsibility. It’s not like if my kid decided to misbehave around me I would respond with “Well, I respect her choice to misbehave.” Uh no. That wasn’t (and still isn’t) on the menu. As I said, I would defer to her opinion when the occasion would allow: choices of clothes, toys, videos, types of play, food (to a degree), feelings, creative expression — in all these ways she had the freedom to be an independent person from me from the start. And she still is.
Next time for Parenting: The Sober Side —“All Your Flaws in Piggy Tails”