Monday, December 24, 2012

An insomniac's parenting-related ramblings

It's 3:00 a.m. on Christmas Eve and I've spent the last couple of hours tossing and turning while trying not to wake the four-year-old I'm sharing a bed with tonight. So rather than continuing my futile quest for sleep, I thought I'd bitch about my in-laws for a bit.

B and I grew up with very different parenting styles. My parents were fairly permissive, as far as letting kids be kids by playing and exploring. B's were far more rigid, as far as I can tell. Naturally, this has carried over into our own parenting styles. I don't mind if the boys run around, climb on things, race cars through the house, make messes, and just generally act like little kids - within reason, of course. B has far less patience and tolerance for those sorts of things. He's not terribly far removed from the "children should be seen and not heard" mentality. I think he'll enjoy the kids more when they're a little older and can be useful to him and/or are more reliably obedient. His older sister and her husband, while not quite as inflexible as B, have a much more uptight parenting style than I do.

As a general rule, when my children and I are guests in someone else's house, I try to respect their views on what is and is not acceptable for kids to be doing. That's just common courtesy. For example, a couple of years ago W was playing with the magnets on my mother-in-law's refrigerator and was scolded by both MIL and older SIL. I personally have no problem with a kid playing with magnets that aren't safety hazards, but they weren't my magnets, so I respected MIL's rules. What I'm really curious about is when it's appropriate to push back against other people's parenting ideas, particularly when you're a guest in their home or at their function.

I really have an issue with the way my in-laws handle W. My sweet, sweet W is a *ahem* highly-spirited boy, but he's also very, very sensitive. As much as that child's spirit drives me crazy, I don't want to crush it and I do my best to let him be W (again, within reason). The general view from the in-laws (and B, too, sometimes) seems to be that W needs to change to fit in their mold of "good kid."

Take dinner last night. I was getting the boys' plates ready and had to take R and leave the table when he decided that the red sippy cup wasn't good enough for him. He absolutely lost it when he didn't get the green sippy cup (never mind that he'd been drinking from the red sippy all day...). While I was gone, I think W mistook R's plate for his and ate R's chicken nuggets while leaving his nuggets untouched. I walked back in as W was reaching for the serving plate of nuggets to grab some more. My brother-in-law smacked his hand and said in a rather gruff voice, "Get out of there! You have plenty of nuggets on your plate!" W's face fell and he almost started sobbing. Before a second child of mine had an epic meltdown at the table, I was able to explain that the plate that still had nuggets on it was his and he could eat those. But BIL really pissed me off. First, there was no reason to smack my kid; I'm the one who gets to decide if and when any sort of physical punishment is used on him. Telling him no or moving the plate out of his reach would have been sufficient, in my mind. Second, yelling at him was uncalled for when explaining to him that he still had food on his plate would probably have had the desired effect. I bit my tongue (literally) and didn't say anything because I didn't want to cause a family war at dinner, but I feel like I should have. I don't like my kid being treated like that.

The other thing that bugged me today was W coming up to me several times to ask me if he could suck his thumb. Now, this child has never one asked for permission to suck his thumb. I'm pretty sure that my father-in-law told him he wasn't allowed to suck his thumb, so when he needed that comfort, he came to me to ask if it was ok.

I HATE that he's chastised for doing things that are fairly harmless when we're around them. They do it to R, too, but it has less of an impact on him because he's not as sensitive and doesn't seek adults' approval like W does. I get that my in-laws entitled to parent as they see (or saw) fit, but I'm entitled to that, too. My kid, my rules, right? I mean, as long as he's not hurting a person or property.

I'm being too sensitive about this, aren't I? What would you do (or do you do) when you have to spend time with people who parent very differently from you and have some authority to quasi-parent your kids? Do you suck it up and let them do their thing, or do you say something?


Swistle said...

There is such a difference between what I actually would/do do, and what I think would be right to do. What I mostly DID do was stew, and lie awake at night, and compose imaginary conversations in which I firmly rebuked the offending party in such an intelligent and articulate way that they felt ashamed and re-evaluated their entire way of living.

I also spoke to the children privately, saying for example that I did not agree with Grandma, but that in our society we treat elders with respect, and/or that different families have different rules. Gently, very gently, I taught them Deceptive Social Living, where we nod and smile and then do what we were going to do anyway (hidden if necessary), and breathe a sigh of relief when the company has gone home.

What I felt would be RIGHT to do if I weren't such a slow-thinking WIMP is to say something mild and polite but nevertheless firm ("Thanks, BIL, I've got it" = "Butt out"), escalating as needed as high as "I understand your point of view, but this is how we've decided to handle this." Oh, doesn't that sound lovely while lying awake stewing? I found it totally impossible in practice, though. I DID manage to say in a casual cheerful way "Oh, we don't mind if he sucks his thumb," and I considered it a major, major victory even though my mother-in-law rolled her eyes and made a very annoying response that was meant to sound like she was being respectful of my parenting decisions no matter how incredibly stupid and thoughtless and damaging they were.

Brittany said...

I'm sorry, he SMACKED HIS HAND? How on Earth your vision didn't go red, I have no idea.

Do our inlaws and I have different parenting views? Sure. Biggest difference being we PARENT, they merely treated their kids like furniture. And unfortunately for them, I have vocally laid down our parenting rules, and in the end it has paved the way for them to treat our children with the same respect and boundaries as we do.

But, lord help the person who physically touches my child or makes them feel shame or embarrassment? UNACCEPTABLE.

Andy and I have a rule, I deal with my family, he with his. You can bet your ass he'd be marching his butt over to his parents to express to them how that is NEVER acceptable, to respect your parenting, and until you find a working medium, your kids won't be back. How absolutely damaging.

Katie said...

1. I love Swistle's comments.

2. I am not particularly willing to argue with my parents about my kid, and I often feel bad for my sister (who is younger than me and does not yet have children) because she will have to live with the things I am being permissive about. For example: my kid eats vegetables at home. If she does not eat vegetables, she does not get dessert. That's it. And she's fine, and it won't kill her to skip dessert, and she eats more healthy food than I do. But my dad FREAKS out when I try to enforce that at his house, and also counts corn and potatoes as vegetables (no). But while I will sit next to my daughter and put salad in her mouth while she's not paying attention (because sitting still while at big person dinner is a challenge), I'm not going to fight with my parents. They don't count jello as dessert - it's a "palate cleanser" before real dessert (cake or something) and while we would not do that at home, whatever. Not worth it. But for anything that really matters? I mostly do what Swistle says, agree but do whatever I was going to do anyways, or say we're not doing that and do whatever I was going to do.

My husband's parents would never do anything regarding my kid anyways without my permission, so I'm lucky that way.

Carrie said...

I am complete agreements with Brittany!
Screw their feelings and worrying about causing a family war. Worry about how they treated W. I have had to lay down the rules to multiple family members and if I hurt their feelings, so be it! My child, my parenting style! Unless of course that child is in danger. I too have laid in bed many times running the scenario over and over again in my head and just stressing myself out. Finally one day I woke up and said "Fuck it! I birthed these kids and the way they are being treated is unacceptable in my eyes!" Was the chicken nuggets really that big of a deal? The poor kid was hungry so let him eat. I have memories from when I was around 3-4 years old, so from 27 years ago, being treated shitty. Sadly little things bring those memories back. Don't let people that think what they are doing is ok. Unless you speak up, it will happen over and over again because they do not realize it is WRONG!! By the way, what the hell is wrong with playing with magnets on the refrigerator? Weird!
So, to answer your question, definitely do not suck it up! Speak up! They are adults and will get over it.....a impressionable child? Not so much =) Good Luck!

Michelle said...

Yeah, fuck that. If anyone in my or D's family every slapped either one of our kids there would have been a big problem. BIG PROBLEM.

As for the rest of it, I think you have to do what is best for your kids without letting them act like a heathen. I mean, playing with magnets is not a big deal, jumping on furniture or screaming or hurting someone is.

We're having similar issues with my ILs who like having long drawn out dinners and Tate is having none of sitting at the table for an hour, neither is Finn at this point. So, I let them get down and play after they finish their dinner with little disapproving glances. Not my problem.