Who’s The Better Parent: You, or Your Mom??

I asked my mom the other day what parenting style she used with my sisters and me.Mothering-a-Growing-Girl

Her response??? A quizzical head tilt and a single raised eyebrow.

I don’t know what I expected really. Did I think she’d answer with an emphatic “free-range,” “helicopter,” or “attachment?” I guess I did. I guess I am still boggled by how differently I raise my daughter from the woman who raised me.

I know I’m not the only woman to question some of the decisions my own mother made or to wish my childhood had been a bit different. Undoubtedly, my daughter will feel the same. Though this sometimes stirs up all kinds of emotional baggage and unpleasant memories, I try to give my mom the benefit of the doubt and know she did the best she could. I can only hope for the same grace from my baby girl.

In the spirit of parental free will, I thought I’d explore just how much parenting has changed in such a short amount of time.

Some Major Mothering Differences

It seems when I talk to mothers of yesteryear about feeding, milestones, speech, development, or social concerns, they just don’t identify. What’s more, when I ask how they approached a problem or how they accomplished something with their children, they often don’t remember. It didn’t matter how or when their babies crawled or if they started on rice cereal, pureed foods, or solids. So long as they grew well and seemed happy.

This lassez faire, forgetful attitude is not an indicator that they were “bad” mothers back then. Rather, it’s a testament to how much times have changed.

In contrast, if you ask moms with modern-day littles how they manage to get their babies to enjoy tummy-time, they’ll likely offer a ton of ideas. They may quote the latest, greatest baby expert, pull up a Pinterest board, or get right down on the floor and show you. They also probably know developmental charts by heart and can tell you exactly how many minutes are appropriate for a baby to be in the prone position. 

But are they any more invested in their child’s upbringing than their mothers were?

pastmotherThe likely answer is no. In fact, the grandmas of today often feel as if us younger moms are too absorbed in our kids, neglecting to invest enough into ourselves or our marriages.

So who has the right idea?

We can’t decide which approach is better without first considering the cultural and societal norms that so strongly influence our parenting choices.

When we think of the major events that shaped our own mother’s childhoods we imagine:

  • The Vietnam War
  • The revolutionary, free-love of the 60’s and 70’s
  • The explosion of women in the workforce in the 70’s and 80’s
  • A sharp increase in rate of divorce
  • An overall positive attitude toward humanity.

Taking all of these factors into consideration, it’s easy to see why mothers of this time period were more hands off with their children. Perhaps they subscribed to a free-love philosophy where they expected all adults to watch equally over all children. Or, they decided to competitively climb up the corporate ladder and relied on babysitters to provide substantial amounts of care. Maybe they became some of the first single mothers in their neighborhood and had to figure out how to raise their children with little to no help. Or, more simply, they held an overall trust for mankind and knew their kids would be safe if left to their own devices.

Now, let’s contrast that to how the majority of us grew up:

  • Terrorist attacks such as the Oklahoma City bombing and 9-11
  • Columbine and way too many other school shootings
  • The highest level of digital literacy
  • Unlimited access to data in the information age
  • The belief that the world is a 24/7 place with immediate response time

Two themes pop up when I think of our childhoods. The perceived lack of safety, and complete access to any scary knowledge whenever we want it. It’s no wonder our kids are constantly under our noses. Even today’s free-range parents are sure to check for sex offenders in their new neighborhood and look for sketchy dudes before they let the little one explore the playground alone.

Resiliency vs. Repetition

Although evaluating our mothers’ parenting from their perspective gives us a greater understanding of their choices, there are a number of things we wish they’d done differently – read: resent them for.

When it comes to childhood influences, people typically follow one of two paths. We either repeat what happened during our youth, or we “rise above” and do things differently. There are extreme versions of this where a woman might refuse to see any good in her mother’s choices or vice versa where she can see no wrong. But, barring any major trauma, the majority of us fall somewhere within the healthy middle.

In family therapy we call this resiliency vs. repetition.

Those with higher levels of resiliency are more likely to parent differently than the way they were raised. This serves a great purpose in less than healthy homes where the mother might have been an addict or neglectful. On the other hand, those with less resilience are more likely to repeat their childhood patterns which is great when they grew up in a happy home.

So, Who Parents Better?

Really, I don’t think it’s about who’s the better parent. Instead, I like to think there’s room for acceptance of both ours and our mothers’ parenting approaches. And with this acceptance can come forgiveness for the things we resent and praise for the things we are proud of.

There is no daughter of our generation who believes her mother did everything perfectly and the same will be true for our own daughters. On the other hand, we can make the effort to acknowledge the things our moms did right, just as we hope we can resonate positively with our own girls.

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Leave A Reply (2 comments so far)


  1. Susan
    2 years ago

    As I was growing up, I constantly made mental notes on everything I would do differently once I was a parent. My parents divorced when I was five and it felt like they were both doing everything wrong most of the time. Thank you for making that all make sense for me now. I love my resilience! :-)


  2. Marissa
    2 years ago

    Susan
    I have a very similar story and I always think how my choices and actions will impact my daughter. I do think it’s important though to keep context in mind. The majority of the time our moms were doing the best they could in a situation.
    I do things very differently from my mom, but I admit her ways have some merit sometimes ;P

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