When we think about “Parental Controls” our minds jump to the kind of controls we might set for our kids regarding inappropriate content and exposure on the internet, gaming, phones, TV, etc. I’m thinking more about another set of “Parental Controls” that may have a larger impact on our children long term that is harder to establish. I’m talking about the influencers that creep into our decision making on just “how” to parent. Things that we choose to exhibit while raising our children; what pieces of ourselves and our experiences we decide to share and use to guide our style and demeanor.
This other set of parental controls is a sticky wicket in my marriage in terms of what parenting styles we both choose to employ at times. You see, my husband and I come from very different backgrounds in terms of our childhoods and parenting, or lack thereof. We all grow up with different circumstances attached to us; financial, environmental, social, educational and so on. How does one choose what to filter out or is it really even a choice? I don’t write this out of any place of judgement because quite frankly, there are many ways of parenting, none of which I am here to say are right or wrong, just different and necessary depending on what tools you have in your toolbox. So much of our decision making and how we conduct ourselves, albeit not surprising, comes from our own life experience and continuously evolves. Let’s face it, you can seek enlightenment until the sun goes down, but our “instinct” is engrained and influenced greatly by our own experiences growing up. This childhood vault spotlights what “tools” you have in your toolbox to assist with parenting. This is turn, challenges us on the way in which we agree or disagree in raising our children.
In reality some, or maybe most of our tools are passed down to us throughout our own childhood, much like that coveted set of silver and family jewel or perhaps the not so coveted potpourri of end tables and ugly lamps. Ultimately we come to parenting with this toolbox filled with a myriad of items; some tried and true, some crude, some that have seen better days, or perhaps, your toolbox is on the emptier side. Sometimes you might wish you had a different tool but there was no one to help you find it. Either way, when we decide to start a family, we often add some shiny new tools that we’ve read about or that our friends recommend. So when co-parenting, one might think joining forces is awesome because now we have a plethora of tools, right? Yes, but agreeing on which to use and how to use is where the angst comes to life. My favorite frequent flyer saying in our house is “I agree with your message but your delivery sucks”. Message lost, end of story.
Let me shed some light on my life. I live the glorious and messy family life of a blended, generational household which is awesome and hard and messy and beautiful and challenging as hell to ever know if you are doing any of it “right”. I grew up in middle class suburbia in a typical, as they used to say, “nuclear family”. Our family unit was made up of me along with my two brothers and my folks. They were educated, hands on, hardworking and tried their best to model what they wanted us to learn and on occasion, things they probably DIDN’T want us to learn. We weren’t wealthy but we didn’t want for much. We were loved, clean, full-bellied and generously clothed with both new and hand me down favorites. We were afforded social and cultural opportunities. Music lessons and recreational sports. We traveled places to visit family, participate in educational experiences and fall in love with nature in one of the most heavenly places on earth, the Adirondacks. We were pushed to dream of our futures where college was the assumptive next step. And then we were given a supportive boot when it was time to spread our wings. We were taught to work hard, learn the value of a dollar. We had love, validation and a strong sense of right and wrong. We had arguments, blowouts and family meetings. We were sent to our rooms and tough conversations weren’t hidden. It was all there to sort through and use as a way to learn. All of it was bolstered with unconditional love. It was hard but safe, supportive, shielded and privileged. Family was and is everything.
My husband’s background was very different. Couldn’t be farther from the picture I just painted. He grew up rough and tumble in a city where the street corners were for dealing and exchanging favors. His family was in the system. His mother uneducated and his father chose to walk away after his birth. He grew up in shitty, smoke filled apartments only to wonder about dinner and always looking over his shoulder trying to avoid beatings from the current father of the hour. He ended up in the system. Black trash bags dragged from place to place. Some bad, some sort of ok but never ones with parents who opened their arms and treated him with love or respect. He lived in perpetual survival mode. He never had parental role models until he was almost out of high school and taken in by a family who gave him a glimpse of that and pushed him to want more for himself. He started college and then chose the military- another form of living in survival mode. All. The. Time. So in short, because there is more than I cannot bear to write about, he was not raised with any kind of privilege. He was raised in clothes that didn’t fit, shoes with holes in them, sparse meals, showers snuck in at the school gym, no love, no trust nor safety. No role models of what parents should look like, no unconditional love. The military saved him. It provided for him, gave him boundaries and rules, 3 squares and a semi consistent and safe place to lay his head at night. Not without a price of course, but it was better than any other price he’d already paid.
So as we think about all of that, you can imagine both of our toolboxes look dramatically different from one another. Our parenting style discord comes in agreeing on what that looks like when you have such disparate upbringings. Listening to each other and understanding each other is key, but this is where our own “parental controls” come into play. Often we discuss what parts we agreed with in our own upbringings. What helped us to become successful, whole-ish humans? What parts were painful? What did we want to carry forward and what do we want to cast away. How much of the hard messy parts do we want to share when trying to make a point and when do we make peace with the past. Perhaps we present something new or different so the message of the lesson is not lost in a lack-luster choice in delivery.
These choices and decisions ultimately impact and influence our children and what they choose to bring forth as they evolve into adults. Most of the time we agree on the message and lesson, but the delivery…..man the delivery is an epic reflection of that toolbox and your own “parental controls” coming to life. There is a balance to be found between the loud school of hard knocks and survival mode vs modeling desired behavior and conversational validation. Parenting is personal and afflicted and influenced by our childhood environment and experience, our own parental exposure, or lack thereof, and mixed with our adult life experience. We have to employ our own set of “parental controls” and hope with all our might that we get some of it right.