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Monday
Nov182013

So What Should We Talk About as Parenting Evolves?

In the beginning, there were a lot of big choices. Obstetrician or midwife? Breastfeeding or formula feeding? Bed sharing or crib? Cuddle to sleep or cry it out? Circumcise or leave him intact? Daycare or have a parent stay home? Each one seemed in important. In retrospect, for me, I know each one was important in my parenting journey. They shaped how I see myself as a parent and they shaped my relationship with my child. Did they have a big monumental irreversible effect on my child? Who knows? But they were choices that I put a lot of thought and effort into and that made them important to me.

Because they were important to me, it was easy to write passionately about them and discuss them with other parents. Both in the moment and over the years, those issues turned into a great many words, on this blog, on other people's blogs, on message boards and facebook and twitter and anywhere and everywhere that I could write with a half-nursing, half-sleeping cluster feeding baby on my lap.

But now it is different. I feel like the last big decision we made was how to educate our children and we made that one six years ago. Now it is all minutia or in the moment parenting. The decisions that I make about how to parent my children is less about something I've considered and researched carefully than it is about what feels right in that moment. To some extent, perhaps that is experience talking. In my professional life, I also go with my gut a lot more now than I did ten years ago when everything was researched to death before presenting it to a client. But I think the bigger change in how I parent now versus when they were babies is that I'm parenting inside a relationship that is many years in the making.

Within the walls of that relationship, the books, the magazines, and the experts mean a lot less than my intuition does. Every once in a while, I read an article that catches my interest or inspires me, but I spend a lot less time deep diving for ideas than I once did. I look to my children to show me how to parent them, not to some outside source of expertise and validation that knows nothing about who my children are, who I am, or what our relationship is like.

The interesting conversations about parenting, I find, are more often in one-on-one situations with people who know my children and who know me. My Internet interactions about parenting have become less about big issues and more about daily anecdotes. Those anecdotes don't often make it to the blog, because it is hard to write a full blog post on something that is easily said in 140 characters on twitter.

Today, for example, I tweeted:

"My kids are playing nicely, put away their things, and haven't asked for screens since they got home. Who's punking me?"

I later shared some extreme math problems my son created and had us work on together. 

On facebook, I've shared that my vegetable hating son was horrified at the thought of a vegan restaurant. I also whined that, of course both kids said "I have a sore throat" as my partner was packing his bags to go away on a business trip.

None of these things are big parenting moments, but all of them are part of the day-to-day lived reality and context within which I parent these two wonderful and challenging children. They may get a re-tweet, a like, a comment or a reply. But they aren't usually the basis for big discussions on what works and doesn't work. We're in it together as parents, yet we're all in vastly different situations where there are very few givens.

As a result, it seems that for better or for worse, many of the mommy wars have been cast aside. It also means that I have a lot less patience for platitudes about what is good or bad or right or wrong, because each family, each parent, each child is so different.

I still want to talk about parenting though. But sometimes it seems like there is less to talk about when you don't know my children and I don't know yours. So what should we talk about as parenting evolves?

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Reader Comments (17)

"I'm parenting inside a relationship that is many years in the making." I really liked that, Annie. I don't ask for opinion as much, now that I'm parenting school-aged children and have experienced four little ones. But I still find solace in sharing those anecdotes and perhaps expanding on my response to them. I am always touched when it resonates with someone or intrigued when I'm offered a different perspective. I think there are some great experiences/challenges ahead. Wasn't there something said about this stage being the "sweet spot" (between baby and teen). Perhaps we should just revel in the quiet ;)

November 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLouise

One issue I'd like to see discussed more is marketing to kids, especially as digital marketing to kids is growing. http://kyhealthykids.com/2013/11/15/fast-food-wants-to-friend-kids/

November 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCasey

I went through a period of feeling like there were no big topics to cover any more (I almost never ever blog these days), but then my eldest turned into a preteen. Things that are on my mind these days:

- how do I help to emotionally equip a kid who is prone to anxiety and probably depression, now that he's no longer a toddler?

- how do I make sure he's still getting enough touch now that he doesn't seek it out as much, and how do I raise him to be a man who understands his own need for physical human contact and can get it without seeming creepy in a world where men are not supposed to be huggy and touchy?

- I know that there were some things that no adult could have gotten through to me as a kid/teen/young adult. Some things I just had to live through and make mistakes and figure out on my own, even if it took me decades. How do I know, as a parent, when to intervene and when to back off and let him struggle? (This dovetails with the anxiety/depression bit, among other things.)

- Sex and drugs (you knew somebody would bring these up, right?). For parents who don't want to preach total and absolute abstinence, how can we prevent kids from trying these things too young? (And how young IS too young?) Information and approachable parents only go so far, especially considering how teen brains are wired to minimize risk and emphasize reward. If not for my parents' abstinence-only approach, I very well might have ended up having sex at 14, which for me was definitely too young. But on the other hand, there were some risks that I did not take and that would have ended up being good experiences. How do we help our kids to balance risk and reward?

And in general, what does conscious, compassionate parenting look like as our kids get older? Now that we're on the verge on teendom, I'm having to find new ways to interact with and guide my kids. Staying connected with my oldest son is very different from staying connected with my younger two.

Interested to see what you'll be exploring as your family moves forward.

November 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJess

So much I'm worried about when I think of her getting older! Dealing with her peers, teaching about sex, changing routines, helping with school work, maintaining her sense of self and her self-confidence, dealing with conflict with her as she ages and grows more independent...

November 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

Relationships with peer groups and/versus parents!

Emotional regulation in the older child!

November 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMary

Amy, Jess, Mary:

Those are important issues for sure. I just don't think the answers or the methods for handling them are as black and white as dealing with something like "when to introduce solids" or other little kid issues. The approach that I take with my children is so dependent on who they are and who I am, that I'm never really sure whether it will be applicable to anyone else. I also find that when I put a question out there to ask for advice, most of what comes back may seem like perfectly good ideas for someone else's child or someone else's family, but not for ours.

November 19, 2013 | Registered Commenterphdinparenting

I think that's so much more interesting than the black and white issues - the debate around ideas and seeing that we're all figuring it out as we go - besides very few of even those early issues were really black and white...

For me every day I'm faced with finding ways to teach my kid that she's a good and smart person - there are so many outside influences coming at her that I want to counter balance - I think I'll be facing these for the next 30 years or so - parenting evolves, the relationships grow and change yes - I think the debates get more interesting.

November 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

Not sure how involved you are in organized activities or social play with other families at school/in the neighbourhood, but over the years, I've often encountered situations that highlight the differences between our family (values, rules, etc.) and others', and had to try to explain to the kids.

From situations in which my daughter took it upon herself at age 8 to educate her friends on sex, to them being asked point-blank how we teach values if we don't go to church, to explaining why some words are perceived as bad ("What makes it bad, Mom?"), it's never not challenging for me.

"Every family is different." is an oft-repeated refrain at our house.

As kids grow up (I now have a 17yo), the differences are sometimes more obvious (and can have more at stake). For instance, when my daughter was 15 and started going out with a 16yo boy, I asked him at supper one night if his parents had discussed love, sex & protection with him. He said they did not, they didn't want him to do it so they left it at that. I responded, "Well, we're going to talk about it then."

To navigate these choppy waters is hard enough, but the added strain is to show your kids that although you've chosen one way and another family has chosen another way, that neither way is necessarily "right" or "wrong", but only different is very hard.

Definitely the biggest challenge of parenting for me these days.

November 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNatalie Rea

But how black and white is anything, really? Re: starting solids: my first son was a textbook baby. Started at 6 months with purees of the classic "try these first" foods. Progressed right along with the chart in my Dr. Sears Baby Book. Son #2 had zero interest in food at 6 months. He was almost 10 months old before he would eat anything, and he went straight to picking up a leg of lamb. Son #3 wanted food at 4 months. I was so dead set against giving solids too young, but he really and truly was ready, and we never did purees or baby foods with him, he just had smooshes of soft things we were eating.

I think the black-and-white you're talking about is, perhaps, don't feed highly allergenic foods too young and don't give a baby solids before they lose the tongue thrust. But there's a whole lot of individuality and grey area there, really. And it's like that with everything. Sex and drugs, for instance could probably be boiled down to key values of physical and emotional health. I think virtually everybody could agree that pregnancy is not a good thing in the early/mid teens. There's still some black and white out there, the difference is that WE are less black and white, perhaps, as thinkers and parents.

November 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJess

@Jess:

Not entirely black and white, but maybe fewer avenues/options, is what I mean. It just seemed like the issues and the possible answers to them were more widely applicable (even if not universally applicable) when my children were babies than they are now. When it comes to introducing solids, it seemed like there were three issues: when to introduce, do purees or not, wait to introduce highly allergenic foods or not. When it comes to handling issues with older children, it seems like there are many more layers to each issue and more of those layers are specific to me/my child, rather than to guidance you could write in a book or an article.

November 19, 2013 | Registered Commenterphdinparenting

I started a new blog and write about other things :)

November 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMrsB | Mind over Matter

I think there's a lot to be discussed and researched about education policies and how or whether they align with our understanding of children's psychological development. I'm also always interested in marketing to kids and teens, the prevalence and effects of electronics and screen time, and of course sex and drugs. Also with a changing economy, I find myself wondering how to advise and guide my kids with their choices regarding their continuing education and career choices. It's a long time until then (they're all under 6), but my ideas about college have been shaken by the current state of student loans and the lack of jobs available for college graduates. What steps should we as a society be taking over the next decade to help our kids find satisfying family wage jobs? On any of the issues that affect older kids, there's also always the issue as to whether or not to legislate on those issues, or simply to develop recommendations.

November 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNatalie B.

Very good points and I've had these thoughts too as I need to come up with topics every two weeks for Brain, Child. I especially liked what you said here: "Within the walls of that relationship, the books, the magazines, and the experts mean a lot less than my intuition does."

November 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNina Badzin

It is so refreshing to find a parenting website that shares my views on parenting. Thank you!

November 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnita Scott

Hi, I am posting a blog Carnival for Atheist Parenting at this link:
http://carnivalofatheistparenting.blogspot.com.au/
I would love to be able to include this blog post, and/or another blog post of your choice... If you would consider this, please submit your post through the email address on my blog.
Thanks so much for considering this!
I am really hoping for good quality blogs to feature on my carnival and, with the carnival, I'm hoping to support and inspire secular and atheist parents!

Please feel free to delete this post!
Karen
Carnival for Atheist Parenting

November 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKaren Loethen

"We're in it together as parents, yet we're all in vastly different situations where there are very few givens"

I really liked this quote of yours!

December 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLanz Frago

Great post, Annie! I've only now stumbled upon it. As a teacher and a parent, I know what you mean about the context of relationship being the focus in your parenting. The story of parenting lies in the parent-child relationships. I can't wait to see where your story heads to next!

July 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAlice Jungclaus

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