Being a columnist, especially a fairly opinionated one and especially one who shares some personal details of her family’s life, makes for some interesting comments and concerns among readers, friends and family members.
Sometimes I know I’m being controversial. For instance, when I write about ATVs. I don’t expect everyone to agree and I know some of those who don’t will disagree vehemently. I receive comments via email, Twitter, Facebook messages and through the online comments system — though rarely in person, unless they’re positive.
Other times I am surprised when a family member indicates that I’ve written something wrong or misrepresented facts. For the record, my parents insist that they never made me sleep at the table when I wouldn’t eat my roast beef. I have vivid memories of it. We’ve agreed it may have been a babysitter.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote a column in which I mentioned my grandmother and how she managed to raise 10 children, against all kinds of odds, into successful adults. In one paragraph of that column, I pointed out the differences between parenting today and parenting then. Unfortunately, I did not make it entirely clear why I was including that information and my grandmother took it as criticism of her parenting.
I meant it to reflect that she lived in different times when different styles of parenting were acceptable. But her hurt response shows me that even my grandmother’s generation has felt the burn of criticism of their parenting. We treat this as if it’s a new phenomenon, arisen with the Internet and online forums and parenting magazines. However, I think it’s clear that every woman that has ever raised a child has felt, at some point, as if the world is against her.
I said that my grandmother spanked her children, only to indicate that in her day it was acceptable to do so. She agrees that she did indeed, “but only when they had done something to warrant it.” The thing is, in her day, that was an acceptable reason to spank. Nowadays we are told no physical discipline is acceptable.
I also indicated that she “let her babies cry.” Again, I meant this only to reflect the times and also the pure number of children she had. It was not meant as a criticism, only a way of pointing out the dif ferences between then and today. She responds that: “Most babies do cry — how else would they get your attention when they needed something?” Which is almost exactly what I said to my own mother when she told me I didn’t need to pick up the baby every time he cried.
I said she left her children at home alone. What I meant was that it was OK for her to do something such as visit a neighbour for a moment or hang clothes on the line. Not that she was out gallivanting all day. Today’s parents are told we are not allowed to leave a child under the age of 12 out of our eyesight for even a moment. Parents have been arrested for leaving a sleeping infant in the car in a rainstorm while they run in to pay for gas. That didn’t happen in my grandmother’s day.
As for the other things I wrote, they also could have easily been taken out of the context in which I intended them. Supper was, of course, carefully planned. What I meant was that she raised her children in a time with less choice and less public pressure to “perform” supper with cat face pizzas made to each child’s individual likes. Despite the fact that she had to feed up to 10 children and sometimes more, my grandmother made a baked dessert every night. Today, this would be frowned upon as providing too much sweet stuff. But it was a huge accomplishment and one she should be proud of.
I said that my grandmother spanked her children, only to indicate that in her day it was
acceptable to do so. She agrees that she did indeed, “but only when they had done something to warrant it.”The thing is, in her day,
that was an acceptable reason to spank. Nowadays we are told no physical discipline is acceptable.
The little clothes my father and his siblings did have were all made by my grandmother. So while she may have had less folding and sorting to do — even with 10 kids — she had just as much laundry and even more work in making the clothes. No, she wasn’t faced with trying to pick clothes for a picky seven-year-old from racks of unacceptable styles, but she did put great care and thought into their clothes.
Each generation is different than the one before in term of the pressures they face and the criticism they encounter from others. But the one constant is that there is always pressure and criticism. Especially when it comes to parenting (and writing a parenting column!).
People tell me that they take away a lot from my columns — often learning something new or gaining the ability to look at something differently. But each column is also a learning experience for me and each reaction a gauge of how well I am doing. Obviously, in the rush to get that week’s column in on deadline I was not careful enough to review how what I had written could be read.
For the record, my grandmother is someone I look up to and in many ways idolize and I have never felt that her parenting was inadequate in any way. Sure she did things differently than I do, but everything she did was acceptable and often remarkable for her times. I only meant to indicate that though she raised her children in ways that today would be frowned upon, the important thing was that she invested herself in them — giving them love, teaching them values, and letting them stand on their own two feet. All the things we feel pressure over are almost meaningless in the pursuit of raising a child to adulthood successfully.
But the little things, like phrasing things correctly, are very important to writing this column. So to my grandmother and anyone else for whom my words twisted into unintended insults, I apologize. I hope to learn from my mistakes in this just as I have in parenting and always strive to do better. Dara Squires is a freelance writer and mom of three. You can contact her on Facebook