Moms Talk: On the Shoulders of Giants

Learning from those who have done this before.

My mother and her husband moved to Kirkland this past weekend to spend more time with me and—much more importantly, I’m sure—their granddaughter. I’m so happy I could lose potty training.

I know that I need to say that I’m happy about her move, because about half the people I’ve told have paused slightly before asking me if this is a good thing.  For me it is, but for them, there is only fear at the idea. They shake at the thought of living under the shadow of judgment from those of the older generation who seem to think that we younger parents do everything wrong.

My mom has always been very careful about giving me parenting advice. From the beginning, she would stand back and let me do things my way, even when I’m sure my choices made her sweat at night.  I’ve actively had to ask her to give me advice sometimes.  However, I’ve heard many stories from other moms of grandparents, and occasionally older strangers, butting in to tell them the “right” way to do things. 

Unfortunately, sometimes the “right” way changes. Moms before the 1990s were often told by their doctors to put their babies to sleep on their stomachs, so that they would not choke if they spit up during the night. Then the American Academy of Pediatrics began their “Back To Sleep” campaign, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome dropped by 50%.  Now frantic mothers rush in and flip their babies over after their concerned grandmothers put them to sleep on their tummies.

This kind of thing can lead us younger parents to believe that we have nothing to learn from the older generation. We believe that science is improving and that the latest book that we’ve read shows us the right way to do things, which is much better than the grandparents’ old fashioned twaddle.

I have to disagree.

My mom talked me down from hysterics when my daughter had her first fever. My stepmom does baby talk and play better than anyone I know. My best friend’s mom taught me a great trick for dealing with teething. 

An amazing older woman I never even knew actually took my daughter away from me during a meltdown in Target. I was too shocked to be angry. She soothed my year-old infant and me by sitting us down in chairs in the furniture section, and she sang my daughter a happy song in a language I didn’t know. Her papery hands stroking mine when she put my calm child back in my arms made me feel quiet inside for the first time in weeks.

I know we can learn a lot from each other. I know that I learned a great deal about how to parent from books, from other moms my age, and from my daughter herself. But I also know that the wisdom that comes from having done something before is not to be ignored. 

Not everyone can get this from a relative. If your own parents and in-laws are the type who cannot see how anything different from what they did could possibly be right, it might be time to find another older parent to talk to. 

I recommend someone who is done with parenting completely. Although the mother of a 3-year-old can certainly learn a lot from someone whose kids are in their teens, I think it is easier to dispassionately consider child rearing choices different from your own when you’re no longer doing any rearing.

We are not parenting in a vacuum. We are creating the adults who will care for us when we are the older generation. I believe we can learn from the wisdom of the past, filter it through the eyes of the present, and give it as a gift to the future.

Now, off to lunch with my mommy. Yipee! 


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