A friend of mine (several, actually) have recently ‘liked’ Authentic Parenting on Facebook. I’d heard the term before, but not recently. In any case, it got me thinking about what ‘authentic parenting’ means to me.
For me, ‘authentic’ means something along the lines of true, real, not glossed over or prettied up – and in a way, that’s how I think of how we choose to parent our children. It’s probably not what the author of that particular article/site was talking about, but I like the term as I apply it to what we do.
When I say “authentic parenting”, I mean that we don’t shy away from strong emotions or feelings, we don’t gloss over or try to hide excitement or frustration, delight or arguments from our kids. We try to ‘be in the moment’. That’s not to say we’re perfect – not by a long shot. What that does mean (we hope) is that our children have a true idea of how ‘real people’ function. We don’t hide from our kids – when we argue (which is, thankfully, rare), we argue… and then we talk and discuss and come to a conclusion and apologize if need be.
How does this relate to attachment parenting, you may ask… well, I’ll tell you. For me, this type of realism results in kids that are better able to cope with real emotions. Our kids see my husband and I play and argue with each other. We tease and pick on each other (good-natured-ly) and when we do have a ‘real’ problem – whether it’s a small discussion one or a loud discussion one – our kids see and hear us working through our emotions and the issues and coming to a resolution together that ultimately benefits our marriage by strengthening communication. I think every resolution to a conflict is another tie that strengthens our marriage and through that, strengthens our family.
I think that parents who hide from their kids anything ‘unpleasant’ are doing more harm than good in the long run. Moms and Dads who never get irritated are hiding something, I think… from themselves, maybe? Parents are first and foremost, people – just like everyone else. They come packed with the same emotions and buttons to push that anyone else has, and I don’t think that it benefits anyone by pretending that they don’t. Thankfully, most of my friends know where to strike the balance between being ‘authentic’ people/parents and the fake nicey-nice/scary calm Stepford Mom. Not that I’m not totally jealous of the Stepford Moms on days when everything is just wonky, but overall, I prefer dealing with ‘real’ people.
With real people come real relationships. Not 1950’s Donna/June/Betty housewife perfection, but real and not always perfect marriages. In comparison, I always thought that June Cleaver/Donna Reed types must have tongues full of holes from preventing themselves from making some snarky comment to their husband or children on occasion. I wondered how they managed to pick up the same pair of pants/socks/underwear and not just start screaming… I imagine that those women had a cold, hard rock where their hearts used to be from stuffing their dreams and hobbies down inside so they could labor over their families, under appreciated and virtually invisible. (Then again, the whole idea of being ‘the perfect little woman’ gives me the scratch, so maybe that has more to do with my perceptions, but still….)
In contrast were the moms like Roseanne Connor, Nell Carter – heck, even Mr. Belvedere (who though he wasn’t a mom, was more ‘motherly’ to that family that the real mom…). You can bet that none of those moms went ‘unfulfilled’. If they were feeling under appreciated, they’d damn well tell you about it, and by god, you’d get your ass in gear and start showing some respect! Yeah, they were loud and boisterous and knew how to have a good time (in places outside of the traditional female domains of the kitchen and laundry room). The depictions of them on-screen (and I suppose, in relation to real life) were much more ‘authentic’ to me, and yes, I admit, they were more crass and more gritty – but life isn’t supposed to be glossy and shiny. The issues that those families dealt with were more realistic to me than the naiveté of the 1950’s family. If there was an issue, whether or not it as necessarily something that involved the whole family, the kids’ feelings were addressed.
I think that’s another area of the ‘perfect family’ scenario that bugs me. People treated kids like they were always in the background. I know when I was little, I could sit under the table of off to the side playing with my Barbies while my mom and my aunts talked and learned a LOT. And when I would ask my mom about it later on, she’d explain what she could (or what I needed to know) and if it was a subject ‘too big’ for me, she’d explain generically. I don’t ever remember being told ‘nevermind’ because she didn’t want to talk about it. I try to do that with my kids – I have smart kiddos. Trying to brush a subject under the rug that is ‘unpleasant’ brings more attention to it that answering the question to begin with, I think. So talking to my kids is easier than trying to cover it up most of the time!
Another area that contrasts sharply with the 1950’s version of life (aka the fakey-fake version) is the depiction of the marital relationship. Mom always with the apron and in the kitchen, house perfect… Dad coming in at 5PM looking for his pipe and slippers… that’s crap. In our house, chores are pretty evenly divided. We all live here, and I have a job to do during the day that takes as much of my time and devotion and energy as his career does. Math and English and Reading are much more important than the dishes (though the kids are old enough now to help with that kind of stuff). I don’t have the time (or the inclination) to martyr myself on the altar of the Good Housewife so my husband can always feel like Lord of the Manor (unless he’s willing to reciprocate, in which case I’m totally open to role-playing).
Good marriages – strong marriages – don’t just happen. They’re a hell of a lot of work. Anyone can be a happily married couple. It takes effort on a daily basis to remain a happily married couple (for almost 11 years now – we must be doing something right!!) and that is what I want my kids to see. Conflict resolution, knowing when to give and when to push for your way, treading that fine balance of being the ‘rose’ and being the ‘gardener’ in the relationship takes attention. Do one of those jobs for too long, even in a ‘good’ relationship, and someone is going to get tired of always being relegated to that role, and eventually will end up unsatisfied.
I think another aspect of ‘authentic parenting’ as we use it is related to actually being present in your kids’ lives – not merely a body in the same space, but really participating in their day-to-day. Too many parents get wrapped up in their own stuff – work, errands, their own hobbies, the gym – and too often, there’s a babysitter or day-care that is all-too-willing to take your money and your kids while you do your own thing. I’ve never believed that children benefit by being in day-care (institutionalized centers or home day-cares), and though I realize that some families are forced to take advantage of such arrangements, I do feel that it is over-used. Even for many families who “have” to use day-care… what could be a ‘we need to do this for now so we can better our situation’ often turns into a permanent way of life. It’s convenient – being able to run in and do this or pay this bill or whatever ‘really quickly” – meaning without having to open 3 doors, get kids out of car seats (and/or locate shoes that come off as soon as tiny hineys hit seats), wrestle the kids into the store, through the line and then back into the car – and though my two are considerably older and out of that stage now (thank goodness), trust me, I KNOW how exhausting that gets. But when you don’t have that time together, you’re missing out on so much! By the time you do finally get home, there are 500 things that need to be done at home that cuts into your time with your kids… then it’s dinner and bath and bedtime – and the day is gone. In light of all that, I don’t think that any child is better off spending the majority of his or her waking hours with someone who is not their parent; and I say that with very few exceptions – at least during the formative years.
With today’s busy schedules (even among us mostly-at-home homeschooled folks), it takes a constant effort to make the most of the time we’re allotted with our kids. One thing I have noticed is that time speeds up as your kids grow – mine are already EIGHT and nearly SEVEN YEARS OLD. Seriously, I can not believe how fast time has flown past. Pretty soon, they’ll be off doing their own thing (which hopefully includes a college-type thing for a little while, at least) and then will be busy with their own families, which is as it should be. So taking time to live in the here and now and be fully present in our kids lives is something that my husband and I really try to do on a daily basis. We actually enjoy our children. And that’s as authentic as you can get!
You can read more about ‘real’ Authentic Parenting here.