Our childhoods impact how we parent.

The Child is the Mother of the Mother

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My extraordinarily wise daughter M once said to me, “Your mommy’s mistakes make you a better mommy.”

She’s so right. My parenting approach is certainly informed by research I’ve read and discussions with other parents, but when I choose what to try, I am looking through the lens of my own childhood. Ultimately, of course, it’s the evidence I see of success with my own daughters that determines whether a particular parenting technique works for us. My daughters’ needs are where my parenting decisions end. My own needs as a child, though, are why my parenting decisions start.

This morning, I saw the wonderful Glennon, of Momastery fame, tweet this gem.

Be who you needed when you were younger. Let this be the point on which you balance your parenting choices.

My childhood affects my parenting at every level. I have the opportunity to avoid my own parents’ mistakes with my children. I hope that I have adopted the things that they did right. The way I parent my daughters, I try to be for them who I needed in a mother. Then I tweak the details to be what they need.

Education

My parents were fantastic at communicating to me the value of academic success and helping me develop tools to do well in school. I think that I have been successful in doing the same for my daughters. They love school, love to learn, love to teach, are unafraid to question and dig deeper, and read to a fault.

Balance

My parents valued formal academic education to the exclusion of all else. My mother was deeply angered by my pursuit of extracurricular activities, such as choir and yearbook, although she encouraged me to take Indian (Bengali) music lessons. I have chosen, instead, to encourage my daughters to pursue various interests. If their pleasures outside school impinged on their academic performance, I might make different choices, but for now I love their love for their friends, dance, sport, music, Girl Scouts, and play.

Consistency

The biggest fault I see in my own rearing was a lack of consistency. I was always afraid. I was an adult before I realized that my mother’s explosions of temper weren’t my fault. My father was sometimes there, but mostly travelling for work, and the only thing I could be sure of was that if he said he’d do something, he wouldn’t.

Long-term thinking

I always got the impression that my parents wanted to have a baby and forgot that the baby would grow. My mother did a great job of explaining menstruation and sex to me, but that was the only topic relevant to adulthood I remember discussing with either parent. My parents didn’t address matters of morality, religion, financial responsibility, career planning, marital success, avoiding peer pressure, or staying healthy. I have chosen to take a very active approach to preparing my children for independent adulthood. We discuss all these topics and I give M and J increasing degrees of freedom in each of these areas over time, allowing them to practice making increasingly adult decisions while I’m still around to catch them and help them work through mistakes.

Judicious sharing

I knew far more than I ever wanted to about my parents’ extramarital activities. My mother had no filter at all when it came to spewing poison about my father and the details of every other aspect of her life. I am honest with my children, but I protect them as best I can, sometimes by withholding my opinions where they wouldn’t be helpful. They are my daughters, not my friends, and I don’t seek comfort or validation from them. I protect their relationships with their father, stepmothers, and their families, regardless of what has become of my relationships with that part of the family or my opinions about their choices.

Acceptance

I never felt like I turned out to be who my parents wanted their daughter to be. I wasn’t Bengali enough, British enough, family-focused enough, demure enough, angry enough, and definitely not pretty or thin enough. I went to the wrong college in my parents’ eyes because it wasn’t Harvard or Yale. Forbes’ recent identification of my alma mater, Pomona College, as the top US college, felt truly wonderful because it validates my belief that I got the best possible education there, even if my parents were ashamed of my choice. I accept my daughters for who they are, and believe that my job is to help each of them develop the tools she needs to be the most successful M and most successful J she can be. It is not my job to mold them into a preconceived vision of success. Perhaps if my daughters were less naturally successful, this would be a greater challenge, but my kids are incredible. They’re smart, loving, loyal, strong, opinionated, curious, and beautiful. And so, so, funny. Our house is filled with laughter. I don’t remember ever hearing my mother laugh.

Positive external relationships

My mother grew up in an extended family setting and had trouble embracing the Western model of non-familial relationships for my childhood. She actively resisted my efforts to pursue friendships and mentoring outside the nuclear family. As a single mother, I know how important it is for my daughters to have a community of friends and mentors to draw from, as well as positive male role models in their lives. I encourage and enable their development of strong relationships with classmates, neighbours, teachers, their peers’ parents, and my friends. We have many family-to-family relationships, where all the adults and all the children love and respect one another. When J and M naturally pull away from me to develop their adolescent identities, I want my daughters to have positive, stable role models to turn to.

Traditions

My mother prides herself on being an iconoclast, a trait I certainly share with her. I’m not one to do things just because everyone else is doing it. However, I am able to see value in what everyone else is doing. We had hardly any family traditions, and I feel like I missed out. I have been thoughtful in creating traditions for and with my daughters, from our Christmas tree and Jesus’ birthday cake on December 25, to our nightly Q&A.

I have tried to be to my daughters the mother I wish I had. I think I’m doing a pretty good job of it.

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Sadia

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 10-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. They live in the Austin, TX suburbs, where Sadia works full time in information technology. She contributes to a number of parenting websites and magazines and also runs The Mommy Blogging Guide, where she answers mommy bloggers' technical questions.

57 thoughts on “The Child is the Mother of the Mother”

  1. Sadia, you are my parenting hero. I really admire the approach you take, your honesty and your reflections. M + J are clearly wonderful girls, and you are their equally wonderful mother.

  2. I had a mostly wonderful childhood, but this still resonates with me. One thing I am extremely cognizant of is “judicious sharing”, as you put it. There were things my mom told me that I remember so clearly…things that I would think (if anything) to say to a girlfriend, not a child. And what wasn’t said to me, she said so much within my ear shot to her friends on the phone. It definitely colored much of my internal dialogue, and not always in a positive way.

    I wrap up a lot of this as intentional parenting, and you are the master of that in my book. <3
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  3. What an open and honest post. Thanks for sharing. It was really refreshing to read this and helped me to see that someone else has had similar struggles. I too am not the daughter my mum wanted me to be. I never want my boys to feel they have disappointed me. I want them to make choices for themselves! #twinklytuesday
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  4. What an interesting read, and thank you for being so open and honest about it. I think it’s such a nice approach to continuously strive to give your children the things/lessons that we missed out on as children. For me, Acceptance is one of the biggest things. From a mom whom never accepted her body type/looks and openly spoke about how “ugly” she looked, I was brought up to always look at my body in a negative way and it affects my self esteem on a daily basis. One of the biggest lessons I hope to teach my children is that they are perfect just the way they are and that if they accept what they look like and who they are, their inner beauty will shine brighter than any outer image to the people out there.

    Thank you for sharing.
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  5. I love this – such wise words, and you’re absolutely right. I definitely try to learn from the mistakes (not always very well) and take the good bits of my own childhood. I totally relate to the part about the lack of consistency which I also found to be very unsettling as a child #twinklytuesday

  6. This is a great piece of writing – very honest and open. A piece that I don’t think personally I would have the courage to write. I put my mum on a pedestal, but you are right. When I think about it – there are many things my parents could have done differently. I am an only child and found childhood quite lonely; I am still shy and battle with my self confidence. I wonder if things could have been different if we only talked about stuff as a family. #twinklytuesday
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  7. What a lovely post. It’s such a big responsibility being a parent. I often get nervous how much my guidance, actions and advice will shape my baby girl! Your parents seem like they have been wonderful influences in your life and you sound like you are a fantastic mother! x #twinklytuesday
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    1. If you liked that quote, you should really check out Glennon’s blog and her TED talk. She’s deeply inspiring! I know what you mean, though. Sometimes you hear or read something that completely changes how you approach the world. For me, it was hearing from my therapist, “Be a good enough mother, not a perfect one.” She followed up with something along the lines of “And then your kids will know that they don’t have to be perfect to be good enough.” That was 11 years ago and is still my touchstone.

  8. This post has really made me think about how I approach parenting. I often hear myself saying things to my children that my parents said to me when I was young. Sometimes I wonder if that’s because it’s the right way or whether it’s learnt behaviour from my own childhood. Great post. Hx #TwinklyTuesday
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  9. What a great post. It is so true that we learn and remember so much from our own childhoods. In my experience I always felt that with our parents’ generation there seemed to be a big gap between the adults and the children. Whereas I think that we relate to our children much better and respect them as individuals rather than as just ‘the kids’. Thanks for sharing #TwinklyTuesdays

  10. What a beautiful and honest post!! Your girls are lucky to have you. So many people fall into the trap of parenting their children the way of they were parented. It takes a lot of self reflection and honesty to break from the mould and be a better parent than yours were. Thanks for hosting #twinklytuesday xx
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  11. Wow – what an honest and insightful post. I can definitely related to a few of these points – hits home for me. I am trying not to repeat the “mistakes” of the past but I find every once in a while something creeping up that I have to fight the urge to repeat. Congrats on your accomplishments thus far….
    Minh recently posted Tennis – it’s all about the outfit!My Profile

  12. This is really interesting. I really agree with you about oversharing & have had this argument before. I have always had the counter argument be that you should be open with your children about everything. But I don’t think it is an issue about openness. It is an issue about appropriate relationships. Children are not your friends, your support network or your counsellors, I don’t believe they should be hearing intimate details or problems of your life as though they are. That makes them think these problems are their problems, that they need to support you on. Certain things should be shared with appropriate peers, not children. That, to me, is not the same as not being open with children about things like sex in general terms.
    Thought this was a really good post. #twinklytuesday
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  13. What an amazing quote to be the mother you needed as a child! This is exactly what I try to do. I take the best of my mum and the things I’ve learnt I needed and try to combine them to give Sylvia the best I can! I often feel a little sad/guilty due tot he fact i’m a chronically unwell mother but I still do my best and I know my daughter still has a great childhood! Thanks for your post.

    Angelaxx
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  14. great post – i am very conscious of the things i felt my parents did not do well and i am certain i will not repeat and then the things they did really well I am certain I WILL also do #twinklytuesday
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  15. Really interesting post. I loved the quote about being who you needed to be when you were younger. I was thinking the other day about the era that my parents raised me in and have decided while they have their faults, they did a pretty good job. Nice read. #TwinklyTuesday
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  16. This is a great post. I think everyone is influenced by their own parents style, even if it was not a positive one. I think your comment about your parents wanting a baby, but not realising they grow is very true of some of the mums I know too.

    P.s there is no such thing as reading to a fault 😉

    1. Thanks for commenting, Tracey! I have to agree. I’m a big fan of reading, but in the post I linked, I talked about how I had to be a grownup about it instead of just prancing around excited that my kids were reading past bedtime. But I, like you, would rather read than, for instance, sleep.

      I have to say that I’m really rather sensitive to that idea, of “having a baby” because I think it’s “raising a child” or, even better, “raising an adult-to-be” that needs to be the focus. It’s mostly a matter of language, but language can be very telling.

  17. Oh my goodness Sadia, this is such a wonderful post. It is so wonderfully written, so honest and in parts quite moving. I’ve never really thought of parenting that way and I’m very lucky to have had a wonderful mum abd dad and a wonderful childhood. It’s still so interesting to think about though. You are such a wonderful mother to your girls and they sound like such special ladies. Thank you so much for sharing this with us all and thanks for being a fab co-host at #TwinklyTuesday

  18. Sadia I think it’s fantastic how you are making a conscious effort every day to be the mother you want to be to your girls. Although I feel for you that you didn’t get to celebrate some traditions growing up, it is never to late to make your own as you are doing. You are beautiful inside and out!
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  19. That’s really lovely sentiment Sadia – being the parent your child needs. What a beautiful way to look at parenting. It’s not always easy, and parents are only human what really counts is if you do the best you can for your kids! Thanks so much for hosting #TwinklyTuesday x

  20. This is such a great approach to parenting.
    I never would have admitted it when I was younger but my parents did a good job of raising me, if I am half the parent that they are I’ll be happy. The only thing I would change is the fact that we aren’t particularly loving and don’t really pay each other compliments, I want to be more openly loving with Aria and any future children.

    #TwinklyTuesday
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  21. Such a powerful, honest and inspiring post! I had an amazing childhood and do my best to make Jacks equally as good. I have to admit I have a lot of ‘down’ days but I do my most to ensure Jack does not see it. Jack will thrive in everything he does, I shall make sure of it. LOVE THIS #TwinklyTuesday
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  22. A fascinating post and insight into your childhood and parenting style. It sounds like you had a confusing and at times traumatic upbringing, but that you’re also able to be objective about it and choose to parent your children differently. That’s a real strength and a gift. So many people repeat the mistakes or continue to embody the negative aspects of their parents. I think each generation should be aiming to learn and be better than the last. That doesn’t mean academically or in terms of financial success necessarily. Only that as a whole we all move toward a more positive state, as a collective. I think your children are going to turn out just fine. :)

  23. I think you are a fantastic mum – I love that you let your children make decisions and that you encourage them to have relationships with other people too. Also I love that you don’t try to influence their views on their father/step mother – I think a lot of people tend to put their feelings onto their children which puts them in a very awkward position.
    Thank you so much for choosing my post as your Tuesday Twinkler and thanks for hosting #TwinklyTuesday :)
    Debbie
    http://www.myrandommusings.blogspot.com
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  24. I’m really lucky to have had an amazing childhood and as a result I’m very close to both my parents however your post has made me reflect on the type of parent I want my children to look back on and see as an adult and has made me question some of the ways I approach things. Thank you for making me see the flip side. #twinklytuesday
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  25. I loved this Sadia. Also, particularly loved the quote which sums up your post perfectly and has such a lovely sentiment.

    A very honest, brave and interesting post.

    Am hopping over to read about your nightly Q&A now as I have a feeling this may be similar to our ‘monthly meetings’ :-)

    Nicky x

  26. What a fantastically written post Sadia. So many things really hit home with me about trying to be a different parent from the ones my parents were. Not that they were horrible parents but so many things they could have done differently. Thank you so much for hosting #TwinklyTuesday, I enjoy linking up every week.
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