Often we develop our manner of raising children by way of the example set by our own parents, whether that be to mimic their style, decide to take a different approach altogether, or something in between. In identifying our personal and family values, and how these came to be shaped by our ancestry and upbringing, we become better prepared to make conscious decisions about our own approach to parenting.
You can learn so much about how you have come to be the person you are, by considering the basis for your parents’ child-rearing practices. What was going on in the world in the way of current events, media (music, television, movies), and the economy, when they were young and as you were growing up? What social issues were being addressed? What was their religious upbringing and how has that affected your spirituality? What interests and ways of life have you acquired as a result of your upbringing (Sports? Politics? Environment? Social action? Career goals? Dietary habits? Communication style? Discipline? Behavioral expectations?)
From whence I come
I come from the fifties… Ozzie and Harriet, Leave it to Beaver, and Father Knows Best sense of strong family values and clear division of labor, martinis and cigarettes, the middle of five children- three sisters and a brother
I come from the sixties… Flower children, the Vietnam War, peace mongers, Kennedy assassinations, Martin Luther King and civil rights;
I come from a safe neighborhood, unstructured time, freedom to play and roam, to time fraught with stranger anxiety and relative isolation.
I come from Christian upbringing, Sunday School, parental pillars of the church, church fairs, pageants, youth group, Sunday School, potential seminarian…to become a “rejector” of Religion and an avid spiritualist with deep faith in a power greater than myself.
I come from a house filled with classical music; show tunes, Mitch Miller and Benny Goodman. I am a wannabe musician, former Student of the clarinet. Today I connect and attend to other cultures through world music…
My mother was a leader, a mover and shaker in the Girl Scouts as I grew up, hence my active involvement in scouts throughout childhood. That and family camping initiated my love and concern for nature and the environment.
Dad was the working man, breadwinner, fearsome, fun-loving Boss who fixed things, painted and wallpapered, did the yard work, shoveled us out after a blizzard, and took us to the museum, the library, the park, historic sites, sailing, camping, and comet chasing at 3 am.
He had a strong work ethic and high expectations. He was strict, and we were afraid of him. He was bull-headed and “never wrong”.
Having grown up during the Great Depression, he was a frugal man, always pinching pennies, and insisting upon a clean plate at dinnertime (“take all you want but eat all you take”). Never one to waste anything that may be of use someday, he recycled long before recycling was in vogue.
Ever the consummate engineer, he did his own plumbing and electrical repairs amidst oil can, baby food jars filled with old screws and nuts and bolts, TV and radio tube tester heaped around him on the dining table. I have a vivid recollection of him sitting on the edge of the bathtub shaking the commode in his lap and cursing as he tried to remove the Ban deodorant bottle that had been flushed down the toilet and lodged in the trap.
He considered the impact of his employment situation on our family, uprooting us from what he considered to be a pretentious community and the unreasonable demands of his work in a large corporation. We relocated to a small town in Maine which offered easy access to what he considered to be the finer things in life.
For you see, my father truly was a Renaissance Man. He was a wildlife enthusiast and taught me to be a grateful witness of natural beauty through all of my senses. A loyal patron of the arts, he sought opportunities to expose us to the humanities, passing along his deep appreciation of good music and art.
Despite the overwhelming financial obligations of starting a business partnership, raising his family, providing medical care for a desperately ill child, and putting his daughters through college, he persevered day after day. This is an amazing feat that is so often taken for granted. But his business sense was extraordinary and after many years of diligently paying off his debt, my father entered into a position of financial security.
For all of his hard work and the pressures of day to day life, Dad had a tremendous sense of humor and took great pleasure in shocking people. He loved a good practical joke and was so much like a big kid in so many ways.
Between his loathing for bureaucracy and disdain for taxes, he made a practice of giving much of his wealth to organizations he deemed worthy by virtue of their impact on his community and the world.
His curiosity and enthusiasm for life carried him through to the end of his days. When he was 75, he learned the art of Chinese cooking. At the age of 80, Dad started piano lessons and taught weather classes to senior citizens. His death in 2004 left a gaping void in the presence he held in the lives of so many.
I once came across my mother’s old girl scout book (c.1929), an explicit account of how each room in the house should be cleaned, beds made, table set, how to do laundry, how to cook, how to take care of minor injuries, and most importantly, how to catch and keep a husband.
As I grew up, there was a strict division of labor within our household. Mom stayed home with the five children, taught us right from wrong (deferring to Dad as necessary), took care of us when we were sick and made a full course sit- down dinner seven days a week. She cleaned the house (Monday: bathroom and kitchen; Tuesday: dust and vacuum downstairs; Wednesday: dust and vacuum upstairs; Thursday: wash and hang laundry; Friday: iron (no permanent press back then!); Saturday: change beds, go shopping for groceries and make Saturday/Sunday dinners. She was given a meager weekly allowance, which she carefully eked out to cover groceries, dry cleaning, housekeeping necessities, and cigarettes. She had to ask for extra money to get her hair cut. Discretionary funds were out of the question. It was her job to care for her sick, incontinent and demented father-in-law who despised her. In fact, the huge house she was responsible for was not her house but her in-laws, complete with hideous décor and furnishings, which she abhorred and was powerless to alter in any way.
At age 45, Mom was uprooted as she approached menopause, and hit the bottle, had to contend with a gravely ill daughter and a marriage in which she was miserable. It was not until she was 54 that she got “out of the house” and into the workforce. The transformation in her sense of self was astounding to behold. Her resolve for independence and self-expression allowed her to break out of the subservient role that had defined her and the women in our family for so many generations.
My mother had a determination and gift for turning the most earth-shattering experiences to the advantage of others. She was highly respected as a leader and mentor for youth and young adults, inspiring me and other women following in her footsteps to create a better world for ourselves and our children. She was a mother not only to her own children but to others in the absence of their mothers, teaching me that motherhood must extend beyond our own children to any child in need of mother spirit.
My parents shared a strong sense of community and dedicated themselves to the betterment of society through their involvement with our church and its youth, the Girl Scouts, and the local hospital. They never hesitated to give someone a helping hand, a ride to church or the Synagog or doctor, making dinner or repairs for an elderly neighbor, footing the electric bill for someone in danger of having the power turned off.
While my parents had a difficult and at times stormy union, they remained committed to their 48-year marriage, joking that it cost too much to divorce, until my mother’s death of lung cancer in 1996.
Once you have a clear picture of where you have come from and how you have come to be the person you are, you can begin to identify the values you wish to carry into the future, as well as those better left behind.
This is a fantastic opportunity to set, or reset, the compass for future generations. As you determine how your own background will influence your parenting style, you must realize that you will be the primary example for your children. You are their most significant role model and they are likely to follow your lead:
- If you show respect for them and the other people in your lives, they will learn to be respectful.
- If you are environmentally conscious, spend time in nature, and feed the birds, they will learn to appreciate and care for the natural world.
- If your children see that you find great pleasure in books, they are more likely to become avid readers themselves.
On the other hand:
- If there is swearing in their presence at home, they will curse in public.
- Physical and verbal abuse encourages bullying.
- Children raised in a racist or sexist home find it difficult to see others as equals.