Little known fact: this whole parenting thing? I’ve been mainly winging it. I feel there’s a difference between being a caregiver and straight-up, nose-to-the-grind parenting. Caring for my child, the nitty-gritty of the day-to-day caring, has come naturally to me. But parenting? I’ve mostly been navigating what feels right to me by looking at both the things other parents do that I don’t vibe with, as well as those things that do.
Perhaps this is also the reason why I’ve gravitated to the three women who have become my mama best-friends. When my child is with me (as opposed to with his dad), I spend nearly all of my time with these women (and their kiddos). Together, we comprise of a 14-person tribe – you can imagine what our fam dinners look like.
These mamas each possess different qualities of parenting that I deeply admire and respect. We learn from each other, and when we’re all together – which is frequent – we throw all our parenting ninja skills into the mix and effectively parent all the children. We reinforce that which we want our own children to learn by voicing it to the others, holding everyone to that expectation. Values such as sharing food and toys, using our voices and not our hands, taking deep breaths, and the good old “please” and “thank you’s.” We hold strong boundaries, helping them to communicate with each other, and advocate for themselves.
I trust any of these mamas and their husbands to parent my child.
And it’s perhaps because I spend so much time with our chosen family, as I love to call them, that I sometimes feel completely thrown off my game when I’m in the presence of parents whose parenting styles I don’t support and cannot stand behind.
Recently, I took my kid to a birthday party where I found myself in this exact situation. After the candles were blown, and everyone was getting their slice of cake, I had my back turned when I heard an adult say, “You guys can scoot down.”
This somehow caught my attention, and when I turned around I saw my kid holding his plate, standing in front of a couch occupied by three other kids. I understood what the “scooting down” comment referred to. One child, sitting on one end of the couch, was all spread out, taking up more space than he needed, reminding me of the countless times I’d seen a man sprawled with knees apart and taking up two seats while riding the subway.
I understood that my kid wanted to sit on the couch, and that the other child was refusing to move his body. I slowly walked over, and looking at the child on the couch, I said with a smile, “hey friend! Luca would love to sit with all of you, and if you scoot down a bit, he’ll be able to.”
The kid ignored me and continued to eat his cake. It was then that I noticed his mom was sitting in an adjacent couch, and I found it hard to believe that she wasn’t present to what was going on. Her silence indicated that her child would be allowed to do as he wished. And my almost-four year-old couldn’t comprehend why he, too, couldn’t sit with the others. Eventually he sat on a corner on the other side of the couch, and dove into his cake.
Now look, there are far more challenging things when it comes to parenting. And yet, I couldn’t shake off the anger I felt at the other mom. In that moment, although I found her child obnoxious, it was less his stubbornness and more her parenting style that got under my skin.
Raising a boy in 2019, I am doing my best to cultivate presence, gratitude, and ownership when I relate to my kid. I’m learning how important it is to teach him how to hear a “no,” as well as how to say it, while holding strong boundaries. I believe in screen time, but I also believe in choosing what he watches. Food is always shared, gratitude is often given, and appreciation is sprinkled throughout our day like one sprinkles out food for the chickens.
We are blessed with certain privileges, and I’m still figuring out how to exhibit and embody humbleness. From my mother, I learned how to have a conversation and connect with just about anyone, and growing up in NYC was the perfect laboratory to practice this skill. I aim to model this in all my interactions with folks, so that my child may pick up a thing or two when it comes to connecting and interacting with kindness.
I did not say anything to that mom at the birthday party, only because in that moment I knew if I would have said something, my anger would have gotten the best of me. And so, I think about how I will engage with parents whose styles I don’t respect or agree with, because I know this won’t be the last time. The best I can do is practice forgiveness, and in the height of my anger, remember to do what I would tell my own kid: take a deep breath, drop into my heart, plant seeds of forgiveness and compassion, and most importantly, use my words and not my hands 😉