Sorting Out the Good from the Bad

Sorting Out the Good from the Bad March 4, 2015

In yesterday’s blog post, I compared my relationship with my own children with my mother’s relationship with my younger siblings, and with me as a child. I wrote as follows:

As my own children have grown, it has become striking how different the relationship I have with them is from the relationship my mother has with my younger siblings who still live at home. Her relationship with her children is built on authority and obedience; my relationship with mine is built on mutual respect and trust. Yes, there is love in both cases, but the feel is very different.

A commenter responded to this section with a question:

Are you sure about this? I’m not trying to insult your mother. But if you take “love” and start removing the compassion, empathy, kindness, and all the other things that demonstrate love, what’s left? At some point it just becomes a word used to sanctify a property claim.

Many of my commenters grew up in bad or abusive home situations, and as I’ve read some of their comments over the years I’ve realized hoe truly devoid of warmth or love these situations can sometimes be. But my own case was not one of these. I grew up with parents who threw themselves into activities with us, made time for us, and fostered our sense of curiosity.

I often see people say that the difference between “authoritarian” and “authoritative” parenting is the amount of warmth and support the parents provide their children. I find this confusing, because my parents gave my siblings and I a lot of warmth and support, but also expected immediate and unquestioning obedience and were extremely firm in implementing punishment. The difference between authoritarian and authoritative parenting has to be more than simply the warmth and support parents offer.

The dichotomy of my upbringing may seem odd. We’re used to classifying people as all good or all bad, and that doesn’t work for my parents.

My mother read aloud to us, often for hours every day—storybooks for the younger children, and various historical fiction books for the middle children. I work hard to read aloud to my children, because I know it’s extremely important for their development, but I often find myself annoyed by simplistic storylines, or by reading the same thing over and over and over again. My mother never showed any such annoyance. I didn’t truly value the amount of time and energy my mother put into reading to us until I became a parent myself.

My father played board games with us, or pretended to be a monster at our bequest and attacked our forts with all the growl he had in him. These weren’t things he did only few times, they were things he did quite frequently, even daily, and as a parent today, I value these things all the more. Playing Candy Land for the hundredth time, or following children’s overly specific dictates about how to participate correctly in their games of make believe—these things require a willingness to put another’s desires before one’s own. My father had that.

Someone once told me that it was like my parents were each two separate people, and it’s so true. There’s the mother who spent hours teaching me to sew and who played the piano and sang while my siblings and I fell asleep, and then there’s the mother who punished me severely the slightest disobedience without even giving me the chance to explain. There’s the father who cheerfully involved me in his DIY projects even though I know I must have only been getting in the way, and then there’s the father who froze me out when I got on his wrong side. Reconciling these divergent sides can be confusing.

What is love, exactly, anyway? I’m not entirely sure I know. My parents clearly had deep affection for me, though they had a great deal of trouble figuring out what that meant once I came of age and began to make choices they disagreed with. It was like their affection for me became a dagger stabbing into their hearts as I looked on helplessly. I have as much trouble understanding what happened between us as I do reconciling my parents’ warmth with their authoritarianness. Can there be love without acceptance? I don’t know.

Some time ago I encountered a blog post by Lana of Wide Open Ground titled Why It’s Not Helpful to Ignore the Good Times in #Duggar Type Homeschooling. The piece really spoke to me. Lana explained as follows, and offered more thoughts in an accompanying video:

My main argument, as you can tell as you listen to it, is that supposing the Duggars are your typical cultish homeschool ATI family + 12 more kids than normal (is 7 your average ATI family?), telling the Duggars that their life “sucks all the way” will not help the Duggars children want to leave their home, because that’s probably not their experience. They experience the good, the bad, and the ugly. I did too.

Me too. Me too.

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