I’ve been finding myself thinking about my childhood a lot these days. I guess in these days of wondering what the “best ways” of parenting my kids are, and trying to decide if I have ANY of it figured out, I think back on the only other parenting style I think I know well. My parents’. It’s all I really have to compare to without speculating. And reading Raising Happiness by Christine Carter has also inspired many of my thoughts these days.
My parents weren’t perfect. But I think they did something (or many things) right. They put a bit too much pressure on me. Pressure to have the right friends, join the right activities, get perfect grades, excel at everything, eat the right way, etc. But even with all these pressures, I look back and am quite certain I was happy. I felt loved and comforted. Yes, I was and still am way too sensitive. I overthink everything in my life. I have had my share of eating and control issues. But in the end, I’m quite well adjusted, found a wonderful man to marry, have had a stable and fruitful career and Love Life.
So what is it that I believe was so RIGHT in my childhood? My parents. The way THEY were together. Forget how they were with me and my brother. The way they treated one another, the love and respect they showed to each other day in and day out. I truly believe this has all made me a better wife, mom and adult. Were they sickeningly sweet to each other? Absolutely not. But they gave each other a kiss good bye and hello each and every day as my dad left for and came home from work. They held hands when we walked together as a family. They played in the waves in the ocean together on family beach vacations. They made eye contact with each other when they had conversations. And they always talked. Rarely would they sit without talking. And from experience, I can admit, that sometimes it can be exhausting to talk. Sitting quietly is often easier. But the conversation is important for a partnership. And that’s what my parents were (and still are). Partners. My parents always made it clear that THEIR partnership came first. Yes, even before the partnership between them and me. That might sound harsh. But it’s true. It might sound selfish. But it worked for them and I may have made me stronger and more self sufficient. I think they realized that in the end, they would have each other. When my brother and I grew up and started lives of our own… it would be just them.
I can’t remember a time when one of my parents (usually my mom) would say “no” to something I wanted and I would then have the inclination to then go ask my dad. They were united. Had obviously discussed how to parent together (behind closed doors) because when one said yes, they both agreed. When one said no, there was no opposing view. And for a child to know that their parents are a team, I think adds a level of comfort to a child’s view of their world.
My parents also had FUN together. I remember when I was 13 or so and we were on a vacation on the beach. My parents were playing Kadima (that game with the paddles and ball) with each other. They were diving for balls, falling on their asses and laughing hysterically. I recall rolling my eyes in embarrassment at my two “old” parents acting so foolish. I looked to my brother and said with that teenage sass, “Oh god, LOOK at them! How embarassing!”. He looked back at me and said, “Why is that embarrassing? Do you know how LUCKY we are to have such cool, fun parents?”. I didn’t see it then. But I do now. It’s how I HOPE my kids view Tim and I one day. Fun. Cool. Active. Even if we embarrass them along the way, at least they’ll know we love each other and each other’s company.
My parents also fought. Not screaming fights but arguments nonetheless. I’d look nervously between the two of them as my mom’s face got red and my dad got that “look” that I always feared. I never really knew what they were fighting about since they must have had their own little language to prevent us from knowing the details, but it was clear, things were tense. My brother and I would go about our business as the tension between my parents grew and then it would end. And the next day, they’d be holding hands and smiling again. BUT, they always let us know, that what we had been privy to the prior evening, was resolved and ok. I never had to wonder if there was something still brewing or if their marriage was on unstable ground and could end in divorce. NEVER did I worry.
As a parent, I find fights with Tim very difficult. I don’t want the kids to see or hear us arguing. Or bickering. I worry that the bickering effects them negatively and if they’re learning bad habits from us. But what I’ve decided (from my experiences as a child and also some reading) is that it’s not the fighting that could have a negative effect on them, it’s the way we resolve our fights and that they SEE us make up and move on. No, constant bickering is probably not healthy for them to see but disagreements are a part of life and our kids need to learn how to handle them. I have decided I actually WANT my kids to see some of our disagreements so that they can learn how people who care about one another act to resolve their disagreements. I grew up feeling stable with my family and the support of my family BECAUSE of the WAY my parents dealt with the realities of controversy between each other. Pretending a fight didn’t happen or pretending fights never happen is not reality and won’t help anyone.
I still look at my parents today and am amazed at the love they show each other. They spend a TREMENDOUS amount of time together doing anything from crossword puzzles side by side, to kayaking, hiking, snow shoeing or just sitting enjoying a cup of coffee at their local train station. And the conversation still flows. They still hold hands. They still kiss hello and goodbye and tell each other they love each other.
It is as refreshing today as it was 30 years ago. I still learn from it. I still feel warm inside because of it. And I know, having that with Tim is a part of parenting that is crucial to the way my kids grow. I have to say, I can’t imagine ever putting ANYTHING in front of my kids. At this point their needs, wants, desires, everything comes first. But I do hope one day, my partnership with Tim is top priority. I think it needs to be. When it’s really what life will be (or should be) about. (Controversial, no?)
I know that some of my readers are single parents and I mean NO disrespect At All and hope no offense is taken. I feel in the minority and extremely fortunate to have grown up with the love between my parents that I did, and know that in reality, it’s not the case for your parents or for yourselves. I can only hope that it works out as well as it did for my parents for me (it’s not easy!)… and I applaud you for all you do alone.
What are your thoughts on putting your kids or your marriage first?
How do you feel about arguing in front of your kids?