I’ve mentioned before that I was spoiled as a child. I remember once, a two of my friends told me I was spoiled and I had to ask my mom what it meant. She said it meant I was really loved. Now obviously that could be misinterpreted to lead my friends to think they weren’t loved, but we all seemed to turn out okay. Really, as a child I don’t recall being obnoxiously spoiled. I mean – I never had an Easy Bake Oven OR a Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine, so seriously, how bad could it have been? I actually think the conversation with my friends came from my announcing our first trip to Walt Disney World. I suppose, in the world of a small bedroom community in New England, announcing a 2-week trip to Walt Disney World where we would stay in the Lake Buena Vista Vacation Villas was something to be envied.
Anyway, that is not the point of this post. I wanted to talk a bit about my parents, and how I was raised. Of course, my reflections and memories of my childhood are just that, MY memories, and my mom may have a completely different account as to how things happened. These are the things that stuck with me and formed me into the kind of parent I am today – some as a direct result of what I rebelled against as a child, others because I appreciated the lessons I learned from my parents.
My dad grew up in the South, in the then-small town of Ocala, Florida. He may not have had a Southern accent but his manners and personality were definitely that of a Southern gentleman. I distinctly remember him telling me one time all the things a Lady should do and be. Cross your legs at the ankles, do not wear makeup or high-heels before a certain age, gum-chewing was extremely frowned upon by him, but if I did chew it, my mouth better have been closed, I could not get my ears pierced until I was sixteen. The joke was always that I could not marry until he was sixty. I’m sure there are more ‘rules’ I am forgetting. I put rules in quotes because it’s not like he was a tyrant about these things. It was just the way it was and there wasn’t really any negotiating about it. However, he softened on his own and let me get my ears pierced when I was ten. I was shocked and almost chickened out when we walked by the Claire’s in our local mall and he offered to let me get them done. The rule then became ONE set of pierced ears, and no dangle earrings. (I believe my sister had about four holes in each ear so I always wanted to catch up.)
My mom, on the other hand was raised in a very strict Irish Catholic family. She broke through so many barriers on her own because of her extreme talent for ballet. She was teaching ballet classes on her own at age 16 in downtown Boston, and went away to New York City to dance at Radio City Music Hall in the Corps de Ballet by the next year. Of course, her mother insisted she live in a convent at the time, but still, her talent paved the way for some freedom and rebellion of her strict upbringing. Her mother still ruled the roost, however, and I think that, in addition to my being such a blessing after trying so hard to have another baby, led my mom to relax any strictness she had.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I was running around like a wild child with no consequences. I had issues in second grade where I was branded a “social butterfly” and lost some privileges for a while as I learned to button my mouth in school. There were times when I lost tv or being able to go out with friends. But I can count on two fingers the amount of times I was spanked as a child (and one time doesn’t count because I’m pretty sure both my mom and I were laughing when it happened). Mostly, as far as I can recall, and my mom can correct me if I am wrong – I was a good kid. I wasn’t really getting into anything I shouldn’t (oh, except for that one time I wanted to light a kleenex on fire in my dad’s ashtray because I liked the way paper burning smelled-hey, I was 8) or pushing the boundaries at all. I was big on not disappointing either of my parents. My mom knew that was how to get me if I did act up – telling me she was not mad at me, she was disappointed.
So how did my upbringing affect me as an adult? Well, my way of rebelling was to, after my dad had left us (that’s another post entirely for much further down the line), get a second cat (he vowed we could only have one) and get my ears pierced for the second time. That was my little way of saying “Ha! Look at what I did now!” I know, pretty embarrassing as far as rebellion goes. I guess I just always had that disappointment guilt looming over me. There were times when I first started dating J. that my relationship with my mom was a bit rocky. We had been so close and only had each other for so long, that my gaining more independence and sharing my life with someone else was a bit of a challenge for her to get used to. Of course, she ended up loving him and treats him like her son now, so that all worked out.
I grew up having formal Sunday dinners with white linens and dining in 5-star restaurants with my parents usually before or after a Broadway show. I grew up with culture and I guess to an extent the ‘finer things’ as far as certain experiences go (it’s not like we were the Trumps by any means!) and I wanted to be sure to pass some of those experiences on to my children. They both love music and the arts and sing along to my favorite Broadway musicals, so I think I’ve done okay there too. Mostly what I wanted was for them to be open to any positive new experience and accepting of other cultures, lifestyles and people – and respectful in the process.
Before I became a parent, I had certain ideals I knew I would subscribe to. I knew I didn’t believe in spanking. I knew I didn’t want to say “bad boy!” but focus on the action instead of the child committing it. I had every intention of praising the positive and not resorting to negativity, yelling, or guilt. I can’t say I’ve been 100% successful in all of my aspirations, but I have tried.
Having two children under the age of two within the first year of becoming a mom, was a bit of a challenge. One child enters the terrible twos and the other follows suit, even if it’s before she’s supposed to hit that ‘milestone’. My oldest two being so close in age has led to sibling rivalry, but mostly in the sense of them fighting amongst themselves. We never have said “why can’t you be more like your brother/sister” and they both have very defined personalities and characteristics that let them stand on their own merit without constant comparison. The years leading up to school really did put my parenting choices to the test as it was really hard to keep my cool all of the time.
I think of the three things I did not want to focus on (negativity, yelling, guilt) the only one I’m really troubled with is the guilt. I don’t really yell ever, unless as a last, last resort, and I really never label the kids themselves as being bad, I just focus on the actions and the better choice they could’ve made. However, guilt is just a part of who I am I think. You don’t realize when you grow up in it, that it becomes your go-to emotion. I try to do my best not to put guilt onto my kids, but I’m not going to lie, it happens. If I cook an amazing dinner for the whole family and it gets pushed around on the plate, it’s hard not to take it personally and throw a little guilt back at the kids. Of course it doesn’t work in getting my message across to them, so you’d think I’d get it by now.
In addition, I think I allow my kids perhaps a bit too much freedom based on that same guilt. I had such a wonderful childhood where I really wanted for nothing (except that Easy Bake Oven and Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine 😉 ) that when my kids ask to do something or for something, I fully admit to giving in more times than not because I don’t want to feel the guilt of depriving them of something. My husband came from a very different background and is perfectly fine with saying “NO.” nine times out of ten. I guess in that way we balance each other out, which is good…but I know we both have created our own reputations of Mommy being the lenient one and Daddy being the strict one. When my kids ask me something and I say “Go ask Daddy” I get groans in response. It’s something I’m aware of, admitting to, and working on.
As far as those rules I had growing up, I wouldn’t ever go back and change them in my life, but I am much less “this is the way it is” with my kids. If something seems to have no real consequences or negative implications, I’m prepared to break tradition and let it happen. My daughter got her ears pierced at 6, and when she freaked out and couldn’t take them out and put new ones in, she let them close up and got them done again at 7, much more prepared for the responsibility. I have no problem with my kids chewing gum, but do find myself reminding them to close their mouths and remember my dad each time I do. I want them both to be able to express themselves and their creativity and try to foster that whenever I can. Sometimes I fear I am a bit too undisciplined with them but then we get a compliment while out telling us how well-behaved our children are and I breathe a sigh of relief that we are doing something right. Though we may struggle with the issues every other parent does: respect, listening, responsibility, I hope we’ve given them the basis to be good, compassionate, respectful people that give their best every day. And I have to hope that some of that is due to how we grew up, and those same lessons will get passed on to future generations.
Oh, and eventually did get a Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine and an Easy Bake Oven…well, my daughter got the oven…my husband and I got the Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine
about 8 years ago…for the kids…yeah. That’s it.