Raising My Children Differently Cost Me My Village

by A. Rochaun
Originally Published: 
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I wish I saw my family more often. But after moving to the Midwest, a few states separate us so I can only see them a few times a year. Going home gives me that chance to recharge and makes me feel capable of making it through the loneliness I feel when I’m away from them.

During my visits home, I live life as closely to my BM&K (before marriage and kids) life as possible. I hang out with my old friends, travel to my favorite restaurants, and even find a hot minute to experience the nightlife from time to time.

Still, having been a mother for three plus years and a wife for nearly five, I know things will never be the same as before. And one area in particular that reminds me of all the ways my life has changed is unsolicited feedback from loved ones on how I should be raising my kids.

I love them, but that sh*t drives me nuts!

I come from a traditional Southern background. We’re pretty stereotypical in the way our family functions — Jesus is Lord (for them, at least), sweet tea is standard, and nearly all of our sentences have a hefty serving of metaphors and similes. We’re basically just like the Texans you see depicted on TV.

Along with that culture comes the expectation that children should be seen and not heard. “Respect for elders” is ingrained into our society. And a lot of people I love find it peculiar that I raise my kids in a “crunchy,” free-spirited way.

Don’t get me wrong, I think respect for one’s elders is important. But unlike my family, I believe respect is earned not owed. I have no intentions of making my children hug and kiss relatives they don’t know; in fact, I feel that’s a grave insult to their bodily autonomy.

My husband and I both see children as people who will one day have to make their own choices. So instead of trying to control and wrangle them, we hope to give them the tools to think critically and make their own decisions about the world around them. And especially about what happens to their ownb

Raising my children in a way that is counter-cultural to my family’s traditions leaves me feeling pretty lonely. Not to mention, it makes visits really stressful. It’s just one of many things that makes me feel like there’s no “village” to help me with my children.

Sometimes my son acts out, as most three-year-olds do. Both my relatives and I expect it, but we have severely different ideas on how these outbursts should be handled.

My response is often more passive. I’d rather ignore him and let him realize that it gets him nowhere — unless he’s taking things too far, of course. But my family believes we should correct problem behavior as soon as it presents. So it’s hard to follow my routine without hearing something along the lines of “when you were that age, you had better home training.”

The comments are harmless and I know their ultimate goal is to say something useful. Anyone who’s been raised southern knows comments don’t have to be solicited to be given. But that doesn’t mean the feedback doesn’t hurt, especially when they come from your “village.” My family’s comments make me doubt my parenting skills and occasionally cause me to respond in a way that’s uncharacteristic of my parenting style.

At home, I’m more likely to snuggle my kids with affection than let them cry it out. But back home, I’m authoritarian and more discipline focused. And I don’t like it. It makes me uncomfortable. In a way, I’m a less authentic parent in my hometown.

I know our visits are just as challenging for my family as they are for my children and me, since we go against many of the principles they consider traditional “basic aspects” of parenting.

For example, we don’t eat pork, which makes a number of the dishes that I grew up eating off-limits. Which means they can’t have bacon for breakfast. Growing up, I’d eat bacon bacon (yes, I did that on purpose) sandwiches so they don’t get it.

Even my way of chasing my passion while working at home with my kids instead of seeking more traditional employment and putting them in daycare is a few standard deviations from normal.

Still, I’ve noticed many of the ways I parent differently are a result of the way my mom raised my brother and me. She has emphasized our freedoms and sense of personal agency for as long as I can remember. I was never taught fitting in was important — and I’m grateful for that.

However, I often worry that freedom is falsely perceived as an insult to my family’s way of doing things by my grandparents, aunts, and uncles. The southern way of living functions heavily off of parental instincts but make significant accommodations for social customs. I challenge this because I refuse to parent based on what everyone else thinks.

I wish I could convince my loved ones that just because I don’t do things the “old school way,” doesn’t mean I see their style as wrong. (Well, not entirely.)

Instead, it means I’ve taken what they taught me and used to forge my own way. The foods they eat are delicious, but I’ve grown to understand what’s good to ya ain’t always good for ya. I’m having things in moderation in hopes of living a longer life. My children may think it’s acceptable to jump on couches from time to time. But I really believe there’s a balance between letting them have fun and teaching them the lifelong skills they need to fit in with society. And if they can’t enjoy their lives to the fullest level at home, where on earth else could they possibly be free?

Basically, I don’t need the strict guidelines that we grew up with right now. What I do need, however, is their support, acceptance, and unconditional love.

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