Stepping Outside Of My Mother's Parenting

by Christine Burke
Originally Published: 
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When I was a kid, my mom had rules — lots of them. I realize now that when you have three kids, you pretty much have no choice but to create guidelines and boundaries to keep the kids from killing each other. Now that I’m a mom, I have my own set of rules to assist in maintaining law and order around this joint.

While our mothers had good intentions, many of their rules seem outdated and somewhat silly. Because let’s face it: With the advent of social media, cyber bullying, and mass shootings, parents today have more to worry about than whether or not we should wear white after Labor Day. Parenting is different than it was when our moms were raising kids, and we have to change the playbook to allow for the modern challenges kids bring to our lives.

Here’s a list of the parenting rules I’m changing, and I’m pretty sure you’ll recognize your own mother’s rules in my list below:

1. Do not talk openly about sex.

In our strict Catholic house, it was an unwritten rule that S-E-X was not to be discussed. Sure, my brother and I got the uncomfortable birds and bees lecture, but apart from that, it was pretty clear that our sexual escapades as teens and young adults were to be kept under wraps, lest the Holy Spirit find out. And while I was mostly well-behaved, let’s just say that I probably should have gone to confession a time or two — or six.

With my teen and tween, I have vowed to have an open, frank dialogue with them so that when the time for intimacy comes along, they will know what’s expected of them, both physically and emotionally. That’s not to say that I want a play by play of their dates, necessarily, but I do want them to know that I’ll always give them a straight, honest answer. No topic is taboo, and my mother would drop dead if she heard some of the conversations I’ve already had with them.

2. Girls don’t call boys.

My mother believed that good girls did not call boys ever. If I wanted to go on a date, it had to be the old-fashioned way: A boy had to call my house or ask me out in person. Under no circumstances was I allowed to pick up a phone and ask a boy to a movie. Even when I had a boyfriend in high school, my mother still insisted I wait until he called me to chat.

As I grew older, I realized this policy allowed men to dictate whether or not I’d have something to do on Saturday night, and I promptly threw that policy out the window when I hit college. I want my daughter to grow up feeling strong in her convictions, and I want her to feel comfortable approaching men. If she wants to go to a movie, she should see the movie with whomever she chooses. She gets to decide her plans and she is in charge of how she spends her time. And I promise not to cringe too much when girls call my son to go on a date because old habits do die hard, people.

3. Be nice to everyone — always.

This was a big one in our house growing up. Beyond basic manners we were expected to be nice, to be polite, even to a kid who was mean or bullying us. My mom always wanted us to remember that everyone was fighting a personal battle and that being nice to someone who was mean was important. “Kill them with kindness,” she’d say, and I’d secretly roll my eyes.

While yes, I want my kids to be kind and polite when it’s warranted, I also want them to open their mouths and speak their minds when they or someone they love is wronged. I want them to stand with their feet firmly planted on the ground and make it known when they are fighting for what’s right. We aren’t going to change the gun laws or mom shaming with a “please,” and this mama isn’t going to raise wallflowers. They still always have to say thank you though. Because manners.

4. Wait until your father gets home.

Growing up, my mother policed and refereed our bickering all day long, every day. She put us in time out, spanked us when we really had it coming, and washed our mouths out with soap for foul language. She was the disciplinarian, but on days we were really in trouble, she’d thunder out, “Wait until your father gets home!” and we’d run and hide. My dad was then tasked with being “The Closer” when he got home from work. I always wondered why my mom felt compelled to scare us with my dad when she was plenty scary when she yelled.

When I had kids, I decided that any discipline that happened on my watch was my job, and I wasn’t going to pass the buck. My husband and I always present a united front, and to his credit, he backs my discipline calls and the kids know it. I may be the scarier of the two, though, because he once threatened the kids with my arrival home.

My mother was right about a lot of things, and she’s let me find my way as a mother with very little interference. No mother has all the answers, and I’m certain my daughter will do things differently when she has her own kids. Unfortunately for her, though, her mother hasn’t inherited her grandmother’s ability to keep the “I told you so”s to a minimum.

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