Sunday, August 4, 2013

Culture Shock

Last week we packed up our Honda Insight and headed to visit my husband's family out on Cape Cod.  Whenever we leave our little corner of Western Massachusetts I feel like I experience parenting culture shock.  We go out among strangers, and see every type of parenting that has been given a monicker; helicopters, tigers, traditionalists, etc. 
The difference in parenting styles seems to smack me in the face, whereas at home we are very lucky to live in an area where, like us, many parents practice some version of gentle parenting.   I feel like in our area 'normal' encompasses one or more of the attachment parenting ideals; bed-sharing or co-sleeping, extended breastfeeding, baby wearing, gentle discipline etc. In other parts of our state and the country I've witnessed the parental norm reflecting the parenting styles of the mid-20th century rather than what I feel is the current attachment parenting trend. 
This trend isn't something new, instead it is something old.  Instead of mirroring the last couple generations of parenting styles people are looking further back for guidance.  Back before there were TVs and computers to amuse even the youngest of babies, and extended families would work together to bring up the newest additions.  I think the most important aspect of attachment parenting is to guide children with your actions, not your words.  However, words can be extremely powerful as well. 
Two separate incidents from our recent vacation have been on my mind.  We headed out to the beach on our second day and as we were nearing the steps up to the beach from the parking lot we were pushing our stroller down (yep, even some times AP parents use strollers) we overheard a mother saying over and over again that she was so surprised that her daughter was 'good'.  This sweet little girl looked to be about a year old, and was cute as could be toddling around the beach in her swimsuit.  Her mama was so engrossed in her conversation that I don't believe she noticed her daughter was hanging on her every word.  While she was exploring the sand around her, she would pause and listen whenever her mama spoke.  I wonder at what age will she question why her mother was surprised that she was inherently good.  What happens when she starts to push boundaries, and question authority as all children do?  Will she stop being considered good, or is her goodness contingent on her continuing to go with her parents flow, and not exert her own will? 
The second experience was on our last day.   It was far from sunny, occasionally spitting rain, but warm so we headed to the park with the boys.  I watched as one mama arrived with her little girl who was about 18 months, scolded her for hanging back and then pushed her forward with the demand to 'go play'.  As a parent of a 2 year old who still takes quite a bit of time in new situations to adjust, I was sad that the little girl didn't have the support she needed to get comfortable on her own terms.  I find that Braeden warms up to new situations quicker if he isn't forced into joining them, and is allowed to hang back with the support of either myself or his daddy until he has fully observed everything and everyone.  Then watch out, because he turns into a ball of energy with a need to socialize. 
The mama of that little girl sat down with some friends at the table nearest our stroller, where Kelan was napping.  I spent my time going between checking on him in the stroller and talking with Peter as he watched Braeden run, jump, and climb everything he could.  At one point a boy, close to Braeden's age accidentally bumped his head.  Braeden called for me and started crying.  I could tell from his cry he was more startled and scared, then hurt.  I was hugging him, and we were talking about what happened when the boy's daddy, from the near by table, carried him over and demanded that he apologize NOW.  That poor little soul was mortified.  His face was bright red, I could tell he was embarrassed at the way he was being held, that he was being presented to strangers and commanded to speak, not to mention he had accidentally bumped someone and made them cry.  That last one is enough to embarrass most people.   Tears started to well up in his eyes too, and Braeden was now calm but uncomfortable with the strange man's tone towards his own child.  I told the little boy that we understood it was an accident, and that we weren't upset or mad at him.  I also said we could tell he felt badly for scaring Braeden, so he didn't need to use his words to apologize. 
Shortly thereafter both boys were back to playing and I was nursing Kelan.  The boy's mama seemed to be trying to interact with me by commenting on how hungry Kelan was.  When she started explaining to her younger boy about the baby I brought him over to show.  The mama said 'we love babies, but then they grow up into this, nodding down at her toddler, and then they're trouble'.  I couldn't stand that negativity directed at what seemed to be a sweet little guy.  I responded with 'I just love toddlers, they're so fun!' and walked over towards my boys.  I spent the rest of the time avoiding eye contact with them. 
Words are powerful tools, and our children's minds are like sponges.  I'm finding out just how trying these little people can be, and we're only in the beginning of it all.  However, I feel that as frustrating as these days can be, its really important to not put labels on children.  They are good, no matter if they follow your rules implicitly or question every thing.  Children are not troublesome.  They are adventurous.  They are curious.  They are full of awe and wonder at this world, and if we can just spend five minutes each day looking at things through their eyes our busy adult world would mesh so much better with their world of wonderment. 

What is the prevalent parenting style near you?  In what ways do you wish the parents in your community would alter their child-rearing ways?

*DISCLAIMER*  This post in no way means I think I am the perfect parent.  I am constantly wishing I could take back how I did something, and educating myself in different ways to be a more peaceful, gentle, child-friendly parent and adult. 

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