When You're Parenting Differently Than Your Own Parents

by Jessica Waite
Originally Published: 
A mom in blue denim shirt looking at her daughter dressed in a pink dress with a spoon while holding...
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Nothing forces you to make choices like becoming a parent. Choosing a name, choosing baby’s first solid food, and later choosing technology boundaries or curfews (yikes!).

One of the truly unfair things about becoming a parent is that no matter what you choose, if it’s not exactly the same choice that your own parents made when raising you, there’s potential for conflict. Oh, and let’s not forget that you might have a partner, and maybe a set of in-laws, plus opinionated siblings, so there are plenty of opportunities to question your choices.

If you’re lucky, all your family members (and you!) are totally easygoing, chill, open people, so you and your partner just do your parenting thing as best you can and everyone is supportive. But, if you’re from stubborn opinionated stock, well… let’s talk.

I have strong opinions about lots of things. So, it’s no surprise that even as a first-time parent, knowing virtually nothing, I want to do things the way I think is best. Like everyone, I’m learning and adapting as I go; reading books, peer-reviewed journal articles (I’m a scientist), blogs, taking parenting classes, quizzing friends who seem to be doing a better job than me about their secrets… you name it. I’m trying out what I hope will be good ideas. Of course, as a baseline, I try to remember what my own parents did, or I ask them. This last one only works so well though.

What if you get advice you disagree with and don’t do things their way? This amounts to telling your parents (decades after the fact) that they were wrong in how they raised you. How do you argue against yourself when presented with the statement “but you turned out just fine!” (Did I? I wonder…) What worked for me as a kid might backfire with this new genetic mix. My kids are different people! Also, the last decades included just a few new ideas supported by data for changing things up. So, if our pediatrician or their teacher makes a suggestion based on their up-to-date knowledge, I’m going to listen.

But oh, the sting of being wrong! What if the new grandparents are right? Maybe I shouldn’t have tried so hard with breastfeeding. Maybe if I had tried harder with sleep training I wouldn’t have my little loves sneaking into bed with me every night. If I don’t discipline with the firmness I was brought up with, am I raising future criminals?! Or worse, spoiled kids?!

In this age of super-involved parenting, I think it’s normal to feel angry, resentful, or let down if what we had growing up wasn’t what we’re working so hard to give our own kids. (However, this trend is tied to socioeconomic privilege). Sometimes you might feel like you could never meet such a high standard — I still cannot figure out how my own parents, both working full time, managed to grow the bulk of our family’s food plus raise some farm animals and have pets on top of it all. Maybe you don’t feel like you’re meeting the standards of your loving childhood, other times the picture wasn’t as rosy. (By the way, if you can’t provide in the same way for your family as your parents did and feel guilty about that, DON’T. It’s a fact that it’s a helluva lot harder today, and it’s harder than ever to raise a family even on two salaries).

Kids don’t know the difference. They don’t have anything to compare their childhood to; they’re just living it, and most of the time it seems pretty fun.

Only when you have your own kids can you truly understand and make these kinds of comparisons, and even then you probably don’t have the full story. I’d like to share two things I’ve learned.

1. Different people will judge you on different things.

Everyone has their own set of values, and that’s okay! You have your own passions and strengths, and they might be different from whoever’s offering you advice. Pick and choose. You can’t please everyone all of the time. So stop Pinterest crafting if that’s not sparking your joy, and let your sons wear tutus if that’s what they want, ignoring grandparent comments if they don’t support gender nonconformity like you do.

2. Parents are people too.

Everyone makes mistakes and should be allowed grace. Even your own parents. They probably still wonder if they did everything “right,” but there isn’t a right way to do this parenting thing. I hope my kids will understand this when they have kids of their own!

Now go do the best you can! Your kids will love you for it. Own those decisions. You got this.

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