Who has time to read a book on parenting when you are too busy parenting to stop parenting and learn how to parent?
As This Old Mom keeps getting older, much thought is expended on whether humans are capable of change. Of course, we basically are who we are, (and as we get older, we just become MORE of who we really are) but it appears that, within our basic frequencies, change can occur.
I was raised in a loud, yelling, mocking, paycheck to paycheck, chaos-infused if creative family. My parents worked five jobs between them, but rarely did ends meet. Everyone else seemed to have money, stability and cars that didn’t insist on breaking down in the middle of the Queens Midtown Tunnel. My two sisters and I were crack flat tire-changers.
We shared one bed in our grandparents’ house, and enormous changes at the last possible moment was our only constant. We were raised by the seat of everyone’s pants.
Until deep into my 30s, I was proud my entire life fit in the trunk of a car.
Now, married, with a kid or two, I’ve lived in an actual house for over four years, have four pets and (more or less) stopped being a chaos queen.
My husband was raised by calmly educated, New England WASP Unitarians who believed in schedules, structure and chores. Canada and his brothers were raised with quiet, dignified firmness. Chaos was only found in controlled, televised doses of “Mission Impossible” and “Star Trek.”
Yet, when Canada and I met, we instantly got on, never fought and just knew we were going to be great, complementary parents.
After four years of never fighting, even amid fertility and adoption struggles, we were beyond ready to parent the heck out of someone.
Then we became parents.
And the fighting began.
Canada wanted to sleep train our baby at 4 months which I considered dictatorial, Machiavellian. I found him rigid and he found me too flexible. We were exhausted, drained, terrified and furious. When he called me the prison bitch of our baby, I called him the Ayn Rand of attachment parenting. Finally I understood what my sisters meant when they uttered, “Children are the glue that tear couples apart” and “A baby is like tossing a hand grenade into a marriage.” We went to a couples counselor.
Counseling taught us that neither Canada nor I were technically wrong with our parenting conflicts but neither were either of us right. We were simply reverting to the only parenting patterns we knew, which was how our parents raised us. The transcripts of our utterly different childhoods were finely etched like old heavy vinyl shellacked records in the deepest recesses of our brains.
So, when baby G started behaving like a total frigging baby, we both instinctively reacted the ways our parents acted when they were in charge. When baby G started a whole lot of not going to bed, and because I c/wouldn’t let her cry and Canada w/could, bedtime evolved into a three hour long marathon of who would pass out first ― me or her.
Canada would be firm with Baby G and my boundaries were a little more Ciudad Juarez. Ignoring the best advice from both my sisters, I w/could negotiate with terrorists, aka my baby.
The more I sank into “Free to Be You And Me” parenting, the more rigid and rule-heavy Canada became. If he mocked or mimicked her, I’d holler. “Don’t EVER mock her!”, suddenly recalling how much teasing and mocking went on when my sisters and I were kids.
We read books about how to raise our baby, but there weren’t any baby books about how to un-raise or re-raise ourselves.
Of course Baby G preferred me to put her to bed. If I smuggled her a snack at bedtime, Canada would spit, “Of course she wants you, you let her get away with murder!” Tired of being accused of homicide for giving banana chunks to my infant, I retorted, “You’re just Buzzkill Dad. Why say ‘yes’ when you can just automatically say ‘no’ without even thinking about it first?”
He stared at me. And didn’t speak for a long time.
I figured I had pushed it one Puritanical New Englander joke too far. But, after calm, Canadian reflection, he agreed. Instead of parenting Baby G freestyle, he was automatically re-enacting how his parents raised him. Which was to say “no” first, then, after much WASP-y meditation and Unitarian soul searching, accept that playing with colanders and spatulas in a bubble bath wasn’t utter anarchy after all. Ultimately, Canada confessed he hated being Buzzkill Dad more than he resented me being Fun Mom.
A friend in a similar Carville/Matlin marriage gave us a parenting book. It was a quick read and profoundly revelatory. While, yes, The Whole Brain Child is about how to facilitate better communication with your child, the first chapter alone saved my marriage, career, and relationships with my pets.
After we both inhaled The Whole Brain Child, Canada allowed himself to parent more “in the moment” with baby G, allowing her to make fun, not just safe, choices. They enjoy each other so much more now. His mother even admitted to being too rigid with her parenting choices. And I’m striving to be stricter, even though I do blame government for everything not fun. “It’s bedtime, honey. It’s the law.”
Chapter One describes a fast-flowing river. The way one navigates that river is personal ― one can let oneself be carried down the wild center, dragged over every rock and whirlpool until one prays for a quiet and quick drown, or one can try to control the ride, gripping as hard as one might to hug to the riverbanks, staying the course with white knuckled anxiety-filled rage.
Now Canada and I strive to calmly steer our family’s boat, which glides somewhere between balance and bedlam.
And Buzzkill is our parenting safe word.
In an attempt to provide the Origin Story of This Old Mom, this is an early post about family-making via the foster system, adoption, parenting and the foster system, yet again. Visit www.thisoldmom.com for more, if you dare.