Sunday, February 5, 2012

Being Parent Centered

I was lucky enough to have great parents, so for the most part I just copy whatever they did. There are some differences though, and one of the main ones has to do with family focus.

My parents were definitely "child centered", meaning that the needs and wants of my sister and I always came first. Their free time was devoted to our amusement or enrichment, their disposable income to our educations and toys, and our desires were always considered (if not indulged, because my mother was fairly strict in terms of what behavior was expected).

I don't do this with little R. Of course I spend hours daily doing things for her, like feeding her, taking her to playdates and hugging her. But when it's time to do a fun family activity, we usually choose to do things based on what B and I like. If I had to make a major decision, little R's welfare would of course be a very important consideration; but it wouldn't be the only (or even most important) one. And while I try to arrange things so that little R can be comfortable and happy, sometimes I will let her be uncomfortable for the benefit of B or me (like if we want to go do something which requires her to miss naps). I do play with her, but for the most part I let her amuse herself in her own way, and only interfere if she is unhappy or asks for my attention. Many of our rules (like bedtime is at 8 pm, barring extreme illness) are not primarily for little R's benefit, but for mine (knowing that I am assured of free time in the evening keeps me happy all day long).

Partly this is because a baby is not really an independent organism: my welfare and the welfare of little R are very closely related, and for the most part, what benefits me also benefits her. (As an example of this, she still gets a significant portion of her calories directly from me, in the form of milk.) In a very real sense, she is not able to be happy, calm and healthy unless I am (as demonstrated by her reaction whenever I have been very upset or frazzled around her).

But even if this wasn't true (and sometimes it isn't, when our interests are opposed), I feel that it's important for the main focus in our family to be on the parents and the family as a unit.

My parents did not make the (regrettably common) error of expecting me to fulfill them emotionally (by acting in a certain way, or achieving certain things). Often children in child-centered families do suffer from this. My cousin, who has a single mother, continues to really struggle with this, as her mother has always relied on her to provide emotional support and continual affection: one reason why single parenting tends to be so undesirable.

But I did find the constant focus on me to be a little overwhelming. I remember trying to explain to my sister once why I was so glad to have a sibling (I must have been about 16). "Mom is like the sun," I said, "and she shines down all these rays on us. Without you, all her energy would go just to me, and I would get burned." I had a really hard time learning how to psychologically separate from my parents in this kind of environment, and indeed didn't manage it successfully until I was in my early twenties (by moving to another country for two years).

I want little R to have more psychological space, to discover herself, to explore, and to develop her own independent existence. I hope by taking the focus off her, and keeping it elsewhere instead, she will be able to grow in her own way. (After all, this phenomenon is why most children's book characters are orphans: otherwise their parents would constrain their freedom to have adventures.) I guess I will just have to see if it works out.


  1. This is really interesting. My parents were the opposite of yours. We went everywhere with them and were expected to fit into their lives. We DID spend our days at the zoo and aquarium and playground (but that was also so my mom could hang our with her other mama friends), but our vacations were camping and we went for hikes (no matter how much we hated them) and we ate whatever she made - no matter what. To this day my mother doesn't know my favorite foods because she really didn't care - you ate what she provided.

    Part of this was because she was young and part is just because she thought this was being a good parent. I have to say, that I sort of turned out like you are hoping R does, so I think your plan is a good one.

    I'm actually hoping that T has a little bit more of a secure attachment and close emotional relationship with me than I did my mom. I think some of her "parent centric" stuff made me feel like I didn't matter much.

    Interesting post and I'm going to have to evaluate to make sure there's some balance in my method. I never thought there would be anything potentially wrong with a "kid centric" parent.

    Great post!

  2. One of the things I like most about parenthood is the ability to study out what I did and didn't like about my own childhood, take into account my husband's thoughts, analyze what others are doing, and try to figure out what I think is best. It's like a really fun science experiment (with really BIG consequences if I'm wrong).

  3. Gigi, so interesting to hear your perspective! I will definitely have to be careful in not going overboard (and to remember to carefully consider little R's feelings, so that she doesn't feel unimportant). Also, I do definitely want to have a close emotional connection with her; that is something I've always valued in my relationship with my parents.

    Jenna, it's funny that you say parenting is like a science experiment, because I often feel that too. Unlike you, I dislike this feeling, because what if I make the wrong hypothesis or draw the wrong conclusions??? (Yikes.) I think that's why I like reading about genetics so much, it reminds me that most of the variables are out of my control.

  4. This is interesting food for thought. I think we're somewhere in between the two camps. I have a friend with three children and basically all she does after work is take them to different activities (fencing, ballet, scouts, etc). She has said that all their discretionary spending goes toward their activities. I can't see myself doing that, for multiple reasons.

    Yet, I do sacrifice doing things to work around my daughter's nap schedule and bedtime. I think my mom rolls my eyes at me because I think she just took us out wherever and whenever and if we slept, we slept.

    My parents raised me to be independent and I'm pretty happy with the way I was raised and turned out, so I will probably tend to favor a less child-center approach, but I think this is something we'll have to keep thinking about and refining and adjusting, especially once other children come along.

  5. Lindsey, I am fairly flexible with naps, but bedtime is sacred and she never goes to bed later than 8:30. I could never have your mom's attitude, because if little R doesn't sleep, then neither do I (and that is really no fun). You and your siblings must have been awesome sleepers. Little R won't sleep anywhere except her crib; she will just whine-fuss indefinitely.