Twenty-odd years ago when I was being raised, there were few parenting books doing the rounds. There was no SuperNanny purporting to teach you elusive tactics to keeping the peace and though many of todays popular parenting techniques had been theorised, the terms hadn’t been coined or approaches adopted by society at large. In general people parented the ways their parents had parented, skipping over those aspects which had given them cause to complain and replacing them with the ones we, their children, would complain of. Parents sought advice from one another and parented largely on instinct and though we may complain today, the resulting children of these parents came through relatively unscathed. If your children were clean, fed, happy, well-mannered and functioned in school, you were doing your job. Today, though parenting itself is no harder than it ever was – children will be children whatever the decade – the role of parenting, the conceptualisation behind your approach plays more of a role than arguably ever before. Parenting theories, parenting manuals, researched studies of cause and effect abound and are not only accessible, but forced upon us, whether as light watching on TV at night, or heavy reading in the name of mothering. Whilst for our parents generations it was acceptable, encouraged even, to just parent your child, today we are expected to define how we do so and justify our ways and our means. And even if no-one around us asks us to do it, we will inevitably force these pressures upon ourselves.
The irony is, no matter how numerous the manuals you devour, how diverse the research you enter in; however we parent, whichever term we choose to apply, we as parents will always have regrets and our children their complaints.
Raising my child in a different culture has forced me to analyse how I wish to parent him in ways I might not have done had he been born in the UK. The culture I live in views parenting as an all-encompassing role, but one not just to be taken on by the parents but the extended family even neighbours as well; a sharp contrast with child raising familiar to me where no-one would dare tell off anothers child or a neighbour advise the mother as to where she appears to be getting it wrong. Whereas the UK tends to favour a “do as you’re told” attitude to keeping children in check, Turkish parents apply a more placating approach – if the child wants you, stop your activity and go to them, rather than tell them to wait ’til you’re done. Bedtimes, approaches to feeding and weaning, appropriate dress and activities have, largely, polar opposite approaches. Floating in this ground between Turkish and British has enabled me to step back and take check of which aspects I approve or, those which I don;t and where I feel another- uncultured approach may be needed.
Luckily for me, the internet, social media and amazon put a wealth of parenting sources at my fingertips to delve through. That in itself can be daunting though – so many approaches, each so academic yet each so varied and contradictory to the another. When I began the parenting guide search, seemingly many many moons ago, I entered with a few factors I was certain would temper our parenting approach:
There would be no violence, physical or verbal
There would be no strict routine determined by anyone apart from baby
The child would be free to express their wants, needs and feelings
Ultimately, G & I want to raise our children to trust in their decisions, to understand they are free to make judgement calls, that we will listen not dictate and ultimately, know we love them for all of the flaws they will develop. From all the books, websites and parents minds we’ve tapped into, we’ve somehow pulled together a parenting style which works for us, with flexibility to evolve as our children need it to or to be reined in if we need it to. From the outside, through observing our basic lifestyle, we’d be bracketed attachment parents, Montessori principled, on the sliding side of crunchy. But really, are we those? Aren’t we just parents, a Brit loving a Turk, fumbling our way through the challenge of raising independent, confident, budding souls?
As I’m sitting here typing, G’s at the airport picking up my Grandma who has come for a visit. She and G’s Mother are the same age, yet their approaches to children couldn’t be less similar. I’ve spent many an hour talking to my mother-in-law about the raising of M, trying to explain why we’re against puree-feeding or choose to cloth diaper at birth. She doesn’t quite get it, still thinks me a bit odd and frustrates me at times, but ultimately she doesn’t really mind either: Her grandson is happy and healthy and fed, and her son is on board with my choices. On the flip side, though we talk faithfully every day, my parenting approach rarely comes up in conversation with my Grandma at all; it’s just something you do, not the main part of your life. And here’s the irony again: Grandma, university educated, global-traveller is not interested in the academic study we’ve applied to this new parenting role, yet my mother-in-law, educated to high school, rarely leaving her neighbourhood is willing to listen to it all. Maybe though this isn’t so ironic after all, considering my grandmothers generation were one of the first to be liberated from motherhood enough to build careers, having children for expectation sake; whilst their Turkish counterparts and the generation after continued to approach motherhood as their main job in life. Perhaps this is why there’s such a flurry in parenting manuals right now as western women try to justify their staying at home, having given up this liberty Grandma’s fought for. Maybe we need to have a job description to aspire to, an invisible ladder to tug at our feet to explain the worthiness of being a mother at home, or equally of being worthy enough to be a Mum though working daily outside of it.
Yes, we need terms to define us. We need to connect in ways we’ve never done before. We find our support networks in places online and to do this we need search terms to guide us. We need to be able to explain our 140 character conversations in simple, understandable ways: “#AP #parenting” or “#crunchymama” succeeds where “channeling independent secure natural parenting approaches, cloth diapering, lactivist” doesn’t quite though they mean, in essence the same thing. Within these parenting brackets, there is much freedom of movement, but a framework of sorts which reminds me of expatriation: The one thing which unites you is a definition of sorts and no matter your differences within that definition, you can always fall back on that basis.
As a Mum living abroad, try as I might to avoid adding brackets to my parenting style, doing so is beneficial to my growth as a Mum. I need to know that when I turn to Twitter to vent about M screeching for twenty minutes, that the mothers I connect with won’t just tell me to let him cry, ‘cos cry-it-out isn’t inside our spheres. I need to know that when I need guidance from a manual, the books sitting on the Kindle will reflect the gentler approach we try to take and I need to know that when I just want to shout back, there are techniques I can pull on to relax me.
Terminology, whether we like it or not, serves a great purpose in parenting today. Defined or undefined, M’s still going to have complaints, we’re still going to second guess because that’s simply the nature of the parenting game, but maybe, just maybe, choosing the term we like to cling to enough can help us tip the odds slightly in our favour.