My stern great-grandmother came from Copenhagen around 1890 and married a stern Welsh potato farmer in Northern Maine. Katinka assimilated totally; they spoke no Danish, celebrated no Danish holidays, ate no Danish foods. Children were to be seen and not heard. My potato farmer grandfather Percival (her son), was equally stern.
He mostly repeated the family pattern, and almost finished his job doing so before big cultural changes came. His children were born at the end of World War II and were young adults in the 60s. The peaceniks and free love revolution didn’t quite infiltrate rural Northern Maine. Percy’s kids (my dad and uncles) were healthy boys with farm exemptions from service in Viet Nam; they worked HARD. They planted, tended, and picked potatoes. They may not have worn beads and protested, but they played HARD. They rigged their cars’ windshield washers to dispense moonshine into their glove boxes and started families earlier than planned. Ahem.
They really failed at being seen and not heard. Gloriously. Their kids, my cousins and I, were not expected to be seen or heard. We went on family camping trips and had big raucous Thanksgivings. But still, we were not invited to speak. I’ve had to learn, as a person, to speak up — and unlearn, as a parent, speaking for or over my kids.
Big cultural changes happen quickly, generation after generation. Baby boomers, peaceniks, yuppies, gen Xers, generation Y, millenials — technology, gender roles, economic opportunities, the changing shape of the family, and diagnoses – we have ever-increasing medical testing, neurodiversity, …
What we learned about parenting typical kids, from our parents, is dated. Historical trends in parenting have changed quickly, and they have multiplied, too. There’s not just Doctor Spock followed by Dr. Sears. There’s permissive, free range, attachment, mindful, and authoritarian parenting. And there’s more: religious (conservative or reform?), Adlerian, gender-neutral, tiger moms, geek dads… you see. On top of that, we have a new generation of atypical kids, with intellectual, emotional, physical differences.
Best practices seem to change with the release of each new study. Changing grounds in medicine and education mean we fly by the seats of our pants. There’s no way a parent can stay ahead of it all.
But one thing remains steady — when kids, teens, and young adults misbehave, parents are first in the line of blame — like we operate in a vacuum. The stakes feel high, and they are. Parents, kids, schools, and the culture at large see parents as responsible for their children’s behavior.
We simply cannot do it “right.” With high stakes, shifting criteria, changing terrain (new technologies, family shape), how could we? How can we do those “best practices” about to be announced? I always joked that my kids will need therapy because the standards of parenting change every decade.
But it’s true.
So when we need to course-correct in my family, we get an outside contractor — a professional to survey the situation, advise, and help make new supports. Honestly, sometimes we are late to the game. Like we should have called in a pro six months ago! haha. But better late than never.
Often when I tell someone we are seeing a therapist, they respond with pity or sadness or some version of “this too shall pass.” I think that’s the wrong attitude, frankly. “The family” and its day to day decision making, traditions, and comforts, just doesn’t move at the same speed, or with the same agenda, as “the culture” with its press toward novelty and innovation. Bridging the gap requires outside resources! Haha…
My kids need an orthodontist, I’m not going to even think about doing THAT myself. I don’t want to be in charge of EVERYTHING! Our kids need experts. I’d like to see especially our atypical kids invited to speak, and to advocate for themselves. I for one need someone to paint some lines on the road so that I can stay in between “seen and not heard” and “the kids are in charge.” We need to prepare them to leave the next in whatever way that happens. We will always need professionals — they help me invite my kids to speak and speak up. Our kids will always need therapy… and it’s okay.
-Opinion piece by Angela L. Todd
Angela L. Todd is a coach for moms with sensory kids and preemies. With academic and archival backgrounds, she believes families are microcultures, more than the sums of their parts! She is also senior consultant in Family Culture and History at Funnermother. You can read her Funnermother blog and also find her on LinkedIn, Facebook, Etsy, Instagram, and Pinterest. She lives in greater Pittsburgh with her “Running Mate,” two kids, two cats, and occasional fish.