When I had my first child, I promised myself I would do things differently from my parents. For the purposes of this story, since I am a mother and grandmother, I will focus on my mother, who we called The Hawk because nothing escaped her notice. Looking back, there were many things she did that were wonderful. We had a very loving relationship. And yet, I had a list of eight things I swore I would never do as a parent.
Looking back, there were many things my mother did that were wonderful. And yet, I had a list of eight things I swore I would never do as a parent.
Here’s my report card of how well avoided the things my mother did as a parent:
Yell at my kids – Grade F
As soon as I had more than one child, I turned into my mother. Although she claimed she came from a household with no screaming whatsoever, she learned this skill quickly, perhaps from my father’s side of the family. At any rate, she was a yeller and I promised myself I would keep my temper in check when I had children. But having three bickering young kids often pushed me over the edge.
Nag – Grade F
Here, I am definitely my mother’s daughter. I just can’t help myself. I like to think of myself as giving gentle reminders, but I’m sure my husband and kids think I am a major nag. I see it as being helpful by telling them early and often to take care of something or do what I want them to do. The worst thing possible is to ignore me, as I will just come back at you again and again. So, as Nike says, just do it.
Give unsolicited advice – Grade C-
This one is closely linked with nagging. I know my kids won’t believe me, but I really try to hold back. There have been times when I should have given advice but didn’t because I remembered the sting of my mother’s unsolicited advice, from not buying our house because it was too old to always keeping a bag of potatoes on hand. My family would probably think I deserve an F for this one, but they have no idea how many times I bit my tongue and decided to keep my opinions to myself.
Be ignorant of finances – Grade B+
My mother had no concept of the family financial situation. She never paid a bill, balanced the checking account, or understood anything about my father’s investments for their future. After my father died, I actually had to show her how to pay a bill, and my brothers and I struggled to understand my parents’ financial situation. In the early years of our marriage, I wasn’t much better than my mother. I was saved from my ignorance/lack of interest by becoming a preschool director and learning about finances on the job. Why not apply these lessons to home? Once I put everything on Quicken, I was now in charge of managing our day-to-day finances. In recent years, I have insisted on understanding everything, or at the very least, where to find everything.
Avoid helping my kids with homework – Grade A
Perhaps because my parents never helped me with homework, I vowed I would help my kids when they needed it. I was raised to phone-a-friend if I had a question about any aspect of an assignment. No one proof read my papers or helped me understand what was wanted for a college essay. As a parent, I tried to be a teacher rather than actually doing the work for my kids, but I couldn’t resist helping them learn to write a five-paragraph essay when the school neglected to teach this skill. I was always happy to look over their work (except for math), but they had to do it themselves first.
Respect all authority figures, especially teachers – Grade A
I was raised never to question any authority figure. Especially in school, teachers were always right. So, I never shared that my third-grade teacher paddled children. My mother probably attended parent-teacher conferences, but she never would have dared to ask a question. Having been a teacher, I respected most of them when my kids started school, but knew that not all of them would be great. I joined the PTA, eventually becoming President, and made it my responsibility to know what was happening and respectfully ask questions when appropriate. My kids were open with me about what was happening at school, and honest, two-way communication with their teachers was very important to me.
Be focused on my appearance – Grade C
My mother was perfectly groomed. She made weekly trips to the beauty shop and slept with a hair net between visits. Her clothing was always stylish – no jeans or flat shoes – and she had a purse to match every outfit. Her make-up routine was impressive. No way was I going to care that much about how I looked… until I got older. Then, maintenance took over. I could take care of my own hair and usually wore jeans, but at some point, the nail salon became the beauty shop of my generation. I colored my hair, threaded my eyebrows, and applied make-up to look “natural” (translation younger). It is only in recent pandemic months that I’ve had to let go of my maintenance routine.
Stereotype my grandchildren – Grade A
My mother was very loving with her eight grandchildren. I remember her sitting on the floor reading to my son and having tea parties with my daughters. And yet, she assigned a character trait to each one and believed the stereotype to be correct. This tendency became even more exaggerated with my grandkids, her great grandchildren. Because she didn’t get to spend that much time with them, she decided what type of child each one was, and she was often totally inaccurate. Labels like stubborn, shy, or athletic, and comparative descriptors like prettiest, smartest, or friendliest really upset me. So, I strove to be different and try to see each of my grandkids as a unique person with no label applied whatsoever. And I think I have done this, even with the ones I don’t get to see as often as I’d like because they live out of town.
We are all a product of our upbringing, and I feel lucky that, on the whole, mine was mostly positive. When people tell me that I remind them of my mother, I take that as a complement. As an aside, my kids called me Ming. Could they have been thinking of Ming the Merciless? And is that really an improvement over The Hawk?
I’m sure that my children, who are now the parents, have their own lists of things I did raising them that they swear they will never do to their own children. That’s how we improve upon our childhood experiences. And that’s as it should be.