In my younger years, I was raised in a house where children were seen and not heard. We did not argue, we did not talk back, and we attended church every Sunday. I was only allowed to wear jeans to school if they were crisp and new. At age 10, I was told I was a conservative Republican. I didn’t even know what the hell that meant, but I didn’t ask questions. My sisters and I just nodded our heads and obeyed. I remember thinking, I will not raise my kids like this. I will not be a strict parent. I will let them do whatever they want. This is for the fucking birds!
Then when I was in junior high school, my parents divorced. Things got a lot more relaxed around our house, and I started to feel like I could breathe a little better. It was glorious, and I needed it.
I was the loudest one in my family, and as a child, I always felt a little crazy (still do). There were moments in church when I thought about standing on the pew and lifting up my ruffled Sunday dress and screaming just to see what people would do. I liked stirring the pot. And while I still carry that unhinged girl (who I repressed quite a bit, probably for the best) around with me, after having kids of my own, I found myself hanging onto some of the rigidness I remembered as a child — despite the thoughts I had about it when I was little.
Not everything, mind you. I have always wanted my children to be free to believe as they wish and be who they want, now and when they grow up. But I definitely get very uptight in public places, have very high expectations about what they eat, and find myself overparenting sometimes. Veering on the side of overprotective and strict is what feels natural to me as a mother, even though it made me feel suffocated as a child of strict parents.
Nobody wants to raise an asshole or be the parent of that child who teaches your kid something vulgar or embarrassing. I also don’t want to be so rigid that my kids miss out on something, like being themselves. Honestly, I found myself making rules that I could not enforce. For example, once while driving to a drop-off birthday party, my son was misbehaving and I told him he couldn’t have any cake at the party. That is just unfair to the wonderful mother (god bless her soul) who was kind enough to throw a kid-drop-off-extravaganza and serve copious amounts of sugar.
Of course, they should still be set straight, but I was being a little too rigid. Trying to find the right balance for your family is difficult — something every parent I know is still trying to figure out.
If you were raised a certain way, sometimes it carries over and makes you realize how you don’t want to raise your kids. And sometimes you want to set examples for your kids that your parents set for you. I have done both, and I think it can be a bit unnerving yet freeing to watch your kids do something you were not allowed to do.
This summer, I started to say “yes” to the freeing moments more. I let go of some of my anxiety by caring less about some unimportant things, like letting my kids have a soda and not keeping after them every second to have spotless rooms. This does not make me an inept mother. I realized I was pushing too hard when my son said something to me about always having to have things perfect. His comment really hit home, and I knew how right he was. I don’t ever want my kids believing that striving for perfection is the way to live your life. In fact, it is just the opposite. We are supposed to fuck up, fall on our face, and learn what we are truly made of from those experiences. I know that, but I was being an overbearing mother — too overbearing.
I was setting too many rules that just didn’t matter. Nobody cares if the beds are made or I vacuum under the sofa. If my kids want to sleep in their clothes to save time in the morning, why is this a big deal?
I was always nagging. There were times I couldn’t stand to hear my own voice. “Go change your clothes.” Seriously, that second outfit gets dirtier than the first.
“Go clean your fingernails.” Ten-year-old boys are supposed to have dirty fingernails. It means they are rolling around outside, getting dirty, and living in their wild imaginations.
And so, I have let go a little. My children don’t need me to micromanage them. It does not mean I am a bad parent. It also doesn’t mean they are all going to grow up to be dickweeds. They need to have their own voice, not mine. They are originals, not little robots. They are supposed to get dirty and for the love of god, if they accidentally belch in public, they don’t need to be punished for it (as long as they say excuse me, of course).
Things have changed since I was little. The whole “children should be seen and not heard” is wrong and twisted in so many ways. I realize my parents were raised a certain way — which I am sure is why they started their parenting days being so strict and rigid. But having moments of being too strict myself and then watching my kids’ reactions reminded me of how that made me feel — like I was tied down and just wanted to bust out and say, “Fuck this shit!”
I don’t want my kids feeling that way all the time. Sure, we will have our moments, but it doesn’t have to be every moment. I don’t want them to be afraid to speak their minds. I don’t want them to confuse being disrespectful to adults with speaking their opinion in a respectful way and standing up for what they believe in.
I don’t want to raise them to think they have to say yes to someone else just because that person is older than them. Sometimes adults make really bad decisions and try to convince kids they should do something they know in the depths of their soul is wrong. I want to give them the confidence to say no, to seek help, and to not get themselves into a dicey situation because I raised them to be seen and not heard and always obey their elders. No, thank you.
I do need them to grow up and be respectful, able adults, and I can do that even if I back off a little bit. So I guess you could say I have given less shits lately. I have stepped back and really focused on raising good kids while trying not to be too uptight because I believe it can be done.
And I can honestly say we are all happier because of it — especially me.