Court­ing crit­i­cism

The Compass - - NEWS - Dara Squires

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

at www.face­book.com/read­ilya­parent

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