Parenting’s a process that’s in constant flux


It happened earlier this spring: my mother was visiting and we had all just wrapped watching the Aretha Franklin biopic, Respect. As I was clearing out the dishes and getting her a refill, she asked Nia and Layla if they had something to do in their rooms as she wanted to discuss some family business with me. “Would you two excuse us please?”

Respectfully, they honored her request, but later on, they asked about her reasoning: “Why did Grandma want us to leave the room?” Nia said. “What did that have to do with talking?”

“Basically, it’s a generational thing.” I responded. “When she was your age, adults didn’t carry on conversations with children in the same room. My grandparents told her the same thing whenever they had adults around, and later, they did the same to me. It’s just how she grew up.”

“For real?” said Layla. “That’s weird.”

“Don’t overthink it y’all, it’s just old school. Not personal.”

With the passage of time, as one generation evolves into the next, parenting practices change and we get to examine what still works and and what beliefs or techniques can (or should) be replaced. Back in the day, there were many afternoons and evenings that found me obeying the command of Grandma Margaret to empty the ashtrays, greet the elders and make my way to the basement to read, color, eat dinner or whatever else could occupy my time until it was bath and bedtime. It wasn’t an offensive practice to me, but since our three kids are a couple of generations removed from that era, I felt the need to clarify things on my mother’s behalf.

Along with religion and politics, parenting can become a hot-button topic of discussion, because there are so many different approaches to raising children and so many possible nuances to unpack: In addition to the four acknowledged parenting styles of “neglectful,” “permissive,” “authoritarian” and “authoritative,” there is now a trending focus on “conscious” or “gentle” parenting, the latter two placing extra emphasis on the child’s prerogatives rather than the other way around.

If I had to pick which one I grew up with, I would characterize my parents as authoritarian: What they said went, there was little to no negotiation as far as rules and what made sense to the parent carried more weight than the wants and needs of the children. Calvin and I are more authoritative in comparison: There are rules and expectations, of course, but they are definitely heard as well as seen and we try to allow them the freedom to make age-appropriate choices while experiencing the resulting consequences if necessary.

No mater what template we draw from, parenting is a difficult, often draining task that doesn’t respect age, upbringing or income: Remember how the world witnessed a fidgety — or ill-behaved, depending on whom you ask — Prince Louis sticking out his tongue and putting his hand, repeatedly, over the mouth of his mom, Kate Middleton during Queen Elizabeth II’s Jubilee celebration? Her being the Duchess of Cambridge didn’t prevent her from getting that patience tried on a global stage.

If you haven’t experienced anything similar yet, Mom and Dad, brace yourself: Your moment is coming. Just be thankful that billions of eyes won’t be upon you — hopefully? — waiting to suck the teeth, side-eye and judge.

Time waits for no one, and it is a humbling reality to realize that the world my mother raised me to prepare for and dwell within, in many ways, no longer exists: We don’t manually turn dials on the TV anymore, push large cassettes into VCRs or pull the car locks up or down to enter and exit our cars. There’s no more dial-up internet, programming that signs off at midnight and the slower pace that comes with the absence of hand-held, all-encompassing mini-computers now known as cellphones.

But all of us are figuring out this parenting process as we go, and need to allow for growth and grace. Our kids are watching, and the next generation depends on it.

Lorrie Irby Jackson is a Briefing columnist. Email her at [email protected].


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