My Report Card for Eight Vows I Made to Parent Differently by
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(115 Stories)

Prompted By I Swore I'd Never

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Me and my role model, 1982

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.

Mom before baby #3

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.

Me and my gang, 1986

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.

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real and join my Facebook community.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: funny, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Very thorough job of self-examination, Laurie. And honest, it seems. Like you, I never questioned authority (particularly in school settings), so I really relate to that one, but I liked the way portrayed your entire report card. I give you an “A”.

  2. Marian says:

    Your mother sounds so much like my mother in a way that it’s creepy, Laurie. I love the way you gave yourself grades, because all the deeds are nuanced, for sure. My mother was a yeller and a grooming perfectionist as well, which perhaps was more common in that generation. Absolute respect for authority figures definitely was expected, too. Yet, because of the many “mistakes” made in my upbringing, my mother has been much more supportive and empathetic with my niece, her granddaughter. I’m glad of that!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      It’s a funny thing how my mother’s opinions evolved, Marian. I went first and was told I had to marry within my religion, had to get engaged before I moved out of her house, had to get married to be a respectable woman, etc. By the time her grandkids were dating, none of that mattered. She would call in in great excitement because one of them moved in with her significant other. Where was that mother when I needed her?

  3. Suzy says:

    Laurie, I like the way you gave yourself a report card. Your mother was very different from mine, although mine was also ignorant about finances until my father died and she had to learn. She did the nagging and the unsolicited advice, and so did I, but those are not things I ever swore I wouldn’t do, so they don’t count, lol. She also was always there to help with homework, and she typed all my papers in HS, and that was my justification for helping my kids, even though I may have helped a little too much at times.

    I had to look up Ming the Merciless because I had no idea who that was. I never read or saw Flash Gordon. Hard to believe that’s what your kids were calling you.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      The Ming thing was pretty funny, Suzy. My kids insist it was just another one of their baby sister’s crazy nicknames, a play on Mom, if you will. I have always had my doubts, although the only was of my kids who saw Flash Gordon was my son, the oldest.

  4. An apple for the teacher…so clever to have come up with a report card theme, Laurie. You know, maybe we should all still be getting report cards. Reminds me of an episode of “Black Mirror” where everyone is constantly being rated in their daily interactions, but that’s more about our addiction to social media validation. But I digress. I appreciate your honesty…it’s not easy admitting we’ve been less than stellar parents. We all have our strengths and our weaknesses…after all, we’re only human.

  5. Marian says:

    Yes, and another parallel. I was supposed to marry in my religion, live at home until then, etc, etc, to the point that my parents came to take me home after my college graduation and I’d already gotten an apartment with a roommate. My brother was younger and male, so it wasn’t as bad for him. My niece is living with her fiance, and no problem there with grandma.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Yes, Marian, it’s so interesting how things evolved to the point where my mother, whose strict morality and constant reminders to marry within my religion, embraced her grandkids marrying whomever they loved and living with their partners before getting engaged, let alone married. And in one case, choosing not to marry her partner at all. I wrote a memoir piece about this part of my upbringing which I will send to you privately for a chuckle.

  6. Brava Ming the Merciless, in my book you get an A for effort!

  7. John Shutkin says:

    Great story, Laurie, and told as only an educator would do. You lay out the specific parenting vows and then give yourself the grades you feel you deserve, including some truly lousy ones.

    My bet is that you are a really, really tough grader on yourself. At the least, you need to give yourself the benefit of the curve. And definitely extra credit for being so honest with yourself and sharing it with us.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      John, I guess curving my grades may have helped, but I was truly disappointed by how I fell short as a parent. Looking back, however, my kids seem to have come through it very well. And from the perspective of age, I see that overall I was blessed with a really great mother who, above all, loved us.

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