Balancing Cultures and Parenting Choices
This is the second in a week-long series of essays titled Becoming Mami, a new generation of Latinas speak on childbirth, babies and acceptance. You can find links to the other stories in the introduction.
By Dulce Chalé
How do you keep from falling when you are trying to forge a new path as parents, especially when your own parents disapprove of your choices?
Much of the advice that I have read seems callous and patronizing. In a culture where you move out once you hit 18, may only speak with your parents once a week or so, if you have a good relationship, where outside baby sitters are the norm and independence is prized, there seems to be little understanding of our view of familia, or the importance of closeness with the abuelitos and the heartache on both sides at conflict in the relationship.
I didn’t set out to do things differently than my parents. I thought that they did a pretty good job with me and we have a good relationship. But the more I read and studied, talked things over with my husband and prayed, the more we were led to our own path.
On the surface, we made opposite choices on just about everything from birth to breastfeeding to sleep training to discipline. At times I felt torn between my convictions about parenting and distress at the idea of hurting our parents or seeming disrespectful.
I wanted to have my parents’ approval and for them to understand the reasons behind our choices. In fact, my eagerness had me bombarding them with every fragment of research and information I could find. I filibustered like a practiced politician on vaccination, homebirth, circumcision and gentle discipline. Deep down, I hoped that hearing all of the research and knowledge that went into my choices would help. Instead, I suspect that at times it came across as saying that they were ignorant.
I also found that many non-Hispanic friends didn’t seem to understand how agonizing it could be — most advice just seemed to suggest putting my foot down and saying, “I am the parent and you had your chance. Now you have to do things my way.” I didn’t just want the bottom line to be that we did what we wanted. I wanted to make sure our relationship wasn’t damaged.
I wanted my kids to grow up close to their abuelitos, and to trust them in their care without conflict. I wanted my parents and in-laws to know that we honored and respected them, but I also wanted them to do things our way. That is a lot to ask.
One of the most helpful things was listening, really listening, as my mom shared stories about my childhood. Some of the choices that she made went against her own heart. Like most of us, she was relying on experts around her to help her mother. When they told her that the only way babies would learn to sleep was if they were left to cry, or that breastfeeding was worthless after six months, or that children must be spanked, she sacrificed her own instincts to do what she thought was right. Being able to affirm her heart and her instincts helped both of us.
It also helps to find ways to validate their desires. Is your suegra really just not happy unless someone is eating? Does she just want a chance to hold the baby for a minute or to feel like her advice is useful? Then give it to her.
Try: “Thanks, but I’m waiting on solid food right now. But I would love for you to share the recipe with me!” or ”I bet she would love to have you sing her that old lullaby that you used to sing to her papi.” Or: ”Could you burp him for me?”
Even more meaningful may be finding ways to thank your parents for the things that they did right in raising you, and remind them that they helped you to become the loving, confident parent you are now. They need to hear that they are good parents, just like we do.
Honor and Healthy Boundaries
There are still areas where we disagree, though. In fact, most of them. And it is very, very hard to hold healthy boundaries. I would much rather avoid bringing up disagreements. There are some things where I have decided that it won’t hurt my children to know that good people don’t always do things the same way (food, praise). There are others where I feel that I have to protect them (car seats, spanking). It is awkward and even painful at times. However, how can I teach my children about healthy ways to handle disagreements and standing firm in their convictions if they don’t see me practice it?
I know that my parents love me and their nietos with all their hearts. Even when we disagree, our motives are the same.
The truth is that almost always, we are making the best choices we can for our families. My parents did. And so did their parents. Another thing that I learned was that my parents chose to be kinder and more gentle with us than their own parents were with them. That is not a criticism of my grandparents, who are wonderful people and full of love. But, my grandparents also were kinder, better parents to my parents than their parents were to them.Each generation has grown progressively more gentle.
My choices are not a statement against my parents. Rather, it is thanks to their way of parenting me that I was able to have greater tools and resources to parent my own children even more gently.
We are going to slip off of that tightrope and fall as parents sometimes. Real life is just messy like that. But we can honor our parents and help our children to develop close relationships, even when we choose to do things in a different way.
Dulce Chalé was born in Mexico and now lives in Oklahoma. She is mami to four sweet kidlets, married to her amado, and learning to walk in grace. She blogs about parenting and whatever else comes into her head at her site, Dulce de Leche.