Family Life


4 min Read

Raising Mary: Parenting Like Their Parents Did

The short answer is, “Yes and no.”
I’m holding my three-week-old second child, Adelaide. I can’t stop planting little kisses on her face and squeezing her to me many times throughout the day. I’m the same with 28-month-old Mary. Every day, I tell her I love her and hug her prolifically. This is a positive, important way my mother parented that I have emulated. So is the hands-on way I play with my toddler. I’m silly with her and get down to her level – usually right on the floor with her or wherever she’s playing. 

Another way I parent like my mother is in my encouragement of reading. I started reading books to Mary when she was about eight weeks old – I know long before she could understand what I was doing.

Here is where my techniques differ from my mother’s. What I’ve observed of my mom’s parenting is that there aren’t a lot of boundaries. If Mary wants to eat a cup of raspberries right before dinner and then lose her appetite, no problem. If she refuses to get ready for bed or get her coat on to leave, Mom is reluctant to assert herself. The child is absolutely in charge. It’s been a boon to Mary, who has boundless fun when she’s with my mother, but it’s meant that Mom is more of a playmate to her rather than an authority figure. 

My mother is very uncomfortable with disciplining a small child, at least those in her personal life. (Yet, this is a woman who ran her Grade One classroom like a well-oiled machine.) Tom and I have successfully used time-outs since Mary was 18 months old. We are consistent and, I feel, loving in our technique. I think my mom thinks of discipline as punishment. She is the last of 14 children, and she’s indicated a few times that she felt she didn’t get enough attention in that huge family; I think some of her approaches are rooted in this. 

In other ways, Mom and I differ in our parenting, too. Naps and bedtimes, as well as mealtimes, are the same most days. The times in between are totally flexible. I think Mom thinks my semi-scheduled approach is controlling and unnecessary. 

Mom’s technique in raising me changed abruptly after the early years. When she realized she had little control or authority, she suddenly tried to assert it; hard to do in a preteen and almost impossible later, in a teenager. With my sister and I she tended to fall – without meaning to – into a habit that’s proliferated in her family: empty threats, yelling, nagging and criticism that can be damaging to a child and teen’s fragile self-esteem. I fervently hope to be the one who breaks that cycle. 

I know Mom was just doing the best she could with the tools she had. Truly, I think single parenting has to be a steep challenge, and I applaud my mother for giving me a good foundation. I would think most people take some things from their parents and decide to do others differently. I love you, Mom, but this parenting thing is my gig now.

We asked readers if they parented like their parents, and here is what they had to say:

  • 71% of parents allow their child to do things that their parents did not allow them to do. One parent said, “I choose my battles. I’d rather she eats peanut butter sandwiches for a month than to make her eat fish for supper.”
  • 52% of parents say their family’s routine is very different from theirs while growing up. “I find it harder to get my kids’ attention than my parents did with me due to the competition from TV, computers, and video games.”
  • 88%of parents teach their children the same manners that their parents taught them. PC

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