What they saw was a bratty child.
A clingy child.
A spoiled child.
And underneath it all, they saw a mother who wasn’t doing it right.
My family came to visit for the weekend, and for two solid days, we were sharing the same space. It took all of thirty minutes before they were questioning my parenting methods.
My two boys were still flying high from the excitement of their nona’s and papa’s arrival. Their voices were loud, and they moved like little tornadoes across our living room floor.
In the midst of his whirlwind, my four-year-old son tripped over a toy, falling to the ground crying. Embarrassed, he threw the toy, which coincidently bounced off his two-year-old brother’s head. Within minutes, I had two casualties on my hands, one crying louder than the next.
My instincts kicked in and I went to my children, comforting them both - tending to my youngest with kisses and snuggles. Then, once my older son was breathing again, we worked through what had just happened.
In talking to my son, I learned that he was feeling embarrassed for falling, and regret for launching the toy. He was mad at the toy, not his brother. We talked about what could have happened if the toy had been heavier and what he might do differently if this happened again. He hugged his little brother and we moved on to fixing lunch.
This process was met with some side-eye and comments from my parents inserting what should have been done. My son needed to be punished, they said. He needed a time-out if he was ever going to learn how to behave. And my youngest was too dramatic, they quipped. He wasn't really hurt -- you baby him.
Usually, I do pretty well shrugging off comments and little jabs to my parenting style, but this time, I really felt it and it hurt. I felt under attack, and I started wondering, am I doing it wrong?
After everyone went to bed, I spent the night reflecting on what I was seeing in my parents and in myself.
When my toddler hides behind my legs and is unwilling to give a hug to a near stranger, they see an uncooperative child, while I see a child who feels a little nervous or hesitant, and who is acting on his feelings and learning to listen to his body.
When my four-year-old son requests my attention, they see a dependent child, and I see a well-attached one.
When my children get hurt, they are quickly met with "it’s all right, you’re fine" by my family. I know that they are trying to help, yet I see it as dismissive.
In the face of misbehavior, they see my children as “bad” and I see an unmet need. They see a child who is giving me a hard time, and I see a child who is having a hard time.
And when I lean down to connect with my children and help them notice and name their feelings, they see a permissive mom. I see a mother who wants to help my children regulate, one who has boundaries and empathy.
And then it hit me. My parenting isn’t their parenting. And maybe that feels threatening.
Maybe they hear a message of, if she is doing it differently, then we must have done it wrong.
They may be judging me. But I wonder if, underneath that, they are judging and questioning themselves.
I started to slow my breath and began to empathize with my parents in a way that I practice with my children. This is not the way they raised or were raised. I was breaking generational patterns.
I realized they were not the only ones analyzing me. As sure as I was of my decision into respectful parenting, I was judging me too.
The me who has triggers and sometimes falls into old habits.
The me who wanted something different but felt scared and sometimes isolated in doing so.
The me who wanted to love and accept my children.
And the me who wanted to be loved and accepted by my own parents.
We may do it differently but are on a similar journey.
Perhaps if I see my parents as they truly are, then they will see me and my children as we are. Veils removed, and beyond the labels of either "right" or "wrong".
When I woke the next morning, I stood more assured in my choices. I felt more understanding of my parents and more confidence in myself.
I realized my power was in staying centered and following my intuition.
What if, instead of pushing back, I leaned in? What if I came from a place of guidance rather than taking offense and being on defense?
I would offer information if my family was accepting of it. And if not, I would remain free of shaming or blaming them, while also setting boundaries.
Positive parenting isn’t just about our children. We are reparenting ourselves too, and sometimes even the generations before us. And in this way, we heal and grow.
When we pause to see people - ourselves, our partners, our kids, our parents - as they are, it is then that we see the whole story.
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