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Parenting extremes

The buses are back and they’re free* this week too, so I’ve been riding them. I even rode the O-Train on Sunday.

(*Free in a sense, anyway. Apparently the strike might lead to a tax hike. Injury, meet insult.)

I’d forgotten about all the good people-watching opportunities on the buses. This morning, for example, there were two small families sitting right next to each other on the Number 14, and they were a study in contrasts.

The first family consisted of two stylish young Asian parents and their son, about two years old. The second family consisted of a very large young woman and her son who looked to be about five.

The young couple were both so nurturing towards their son, touching him frequently, adjusting his clothing, speaking softly, smiling at him. He leaned peacefully against his father, patting his father’s leg and smiling at his mom.

The other young woman and her son were both being kind of awful. They spoke harshly, barking at each other, looking for fault, even being physically violent towards each other. He put his hand in her coat pocket. She ordered him, between clenched teeth, to remove it. He didn’t. She punched her pocket hard, and he yanked his hand out, rubbing it and crying. Then he told her she was a bad mother. Just like that. “You’re a bad mother!” A few minutes later he head-butted her in the chest and she punched his arm and snarled at him.

Even when they weren’t interacting, I think he was fantasizing about getting even with her. I watched as he drifted into a daydream. The expression on his face contorted into anger and then, a minute later, it relaxed into satisfaction. It was a bit scary actually.

It was interesting watching these two families interact in such different ways, and to think about how such differences will affect those two little boys in the long run. One child is growing up feeling genuinely loved and liked, while the other probably isn’t. One child has parents taking care of him because they want to; the other has a parent putting up with him because she has to. (I’m not saying she doesn’t love him. I have no way of knowing. But I don’t think she likes him and I don’t think she likes being his mother.)

We have absolutely no control over the kind of parents we get. It’s just the luck of the draw. But it has a lasting influence on us throughout childhood and beyond. Most of us – as children and as parents – fall somewhere in the middle of the parenting continuum. Do you ever wonder how your life would have been different if your parents had been at one extreme or the other? Either phenomenally good or phenomenally bad?

15 comments to Parenting extremes

  • lissa

    Very thought provoking, even birth order in a family makes such a difference in life. Thank you for observing and sharing with those of us that don’t ride buses, only because they are not available.

  • future landfill

    Hi Zoom,

    We were discussing around the office a bit the greasy, queasy “Lock-up-your-daughters” Virgin radio (formerly Bear) posters scattered roundabouts uptown. “The bloggers” someone said, “are likely weighing in on this.” (Not so’s you’d notice to date.)

    Which brought you to mind, bein’ an uppity and clear-thinking soul. (I’ve sent the doofi my snarky e-mail.)

    Regards,
    fl

  • Melinda

    I’ve certainly wondered what life would have been like with other parents and if it would have made a major difference in the way I veiw myself today. It would be interesting to know if and what difference it would make.

  • BuddyRich

    Its funny you note their apparent socio-economic backgrounds as well, “the young, stylish couple” ie. well-off and the “very large young woman”… ie. not so well off. That observation might have something to do with their parenting skills as well. A lone single mother, not so financially stable is under a lot more stress than a couple without money worries. Not excusing the mother for acting the way she did, you can rise above it, but it might serve as a partial explanation on the differences between the two.

    Having loving parents makes it easier, no doubt about it, but not having them doesn’t make it impossible to succeed in life (however you would even define that). In the end it all comes down to choices we make. I know in my case, witnessing an alcoholic father served as a waring beacon to not go that route rather than a glamorous advertisement to pursue that lifestyle. Conventional wisdom says I was doomed to repeat those same mistakes, but instead I chose not to. Would it have been easier if he wasn’t, sure, but I rose above it.

  • Arden

    I think I got both extremes in my parents. I got ridiculously lucky to have a mother who both loves me more than anything in the world, and also really really likes me. I also got the father who sees me as nothing but an extension of my mother and who still, to this day tries to hurt her, and usually achieves this by screwing me over in some new and inventive way. Why just this week he thought it would be a good idea to put me through the wringer!

    Needless to say, I’m quite sure that if I wasn’t “blessed” with the father I have, I’d probably be a more upbeat, trusting, and confident person. Oh well, I suppose I should content myself with the fact that it’s always been psychological, and never physical! :P

  • One thing that I find really interesting is that two kids that have the same set of parents can have such a completely different experience with them. I have three sisters, and one of my sisters just totally does not get along with my mom (my parents divorced when I was young and we didn’t see my dad again, so it was just my mom growing up). I think of myself as having quite a happy childhood; I feel like I was well loved and supported and had a happy, secure household. My sister, though, thinks my mother is crazy and dangerous, hated every second she spent in that house, and today will take any and every opportunity to speak ill of her.

    It still boggles my mind that we grew up in the same house and yet have such a completely different interpretation of what went on. I think there must be some sort of inborn personality that also helps shape the parent/child relationship, in addition to how the parents treat their child.

  • My childhood was less than picture perfect and that is an understatement. People who ‘know’ my story often look in disbelief and say something like, “but you are so normal and grounded-how did that happen?”
    I say you are definitely a product of your upbringing, of your experiences and some of us ‘get out’ and make it and some of us don’t. We all use the experiences and the subsequent ‘tool’s differently…..
    I used my situation to strengthen myself-body, mind and soul. Was it easy? NO! Was I perfect and never stumbled once? Absolutely not! Did I ever wish I had parents and didn’t live alone at 15? Usually, back then anyways.
    But I used all of this as my fuel-fuel to find and be the me I wanted to be. That and humour! I really feel we can choose. Am I perfect-NO! Do I have my ‘things?’ YES!!!!! But it’s all part of me! I love my Life!!!!!

  • Lissa, you don’t have buses yet where you are?

    Future Landfill, that’s interesting you should mention the Virgin Radio ad campaign, because I’ve taken several pictures of their ads on Bank Street in the past week, along with the graffiti and notes left on them. It’s kind of percolating in the back of my mind as a possible blog post.

    Melinda – we can only speculate. I have no idea what kind of parents you had, but you did turn out pretty wonderful. Speaking of which, I ended up donating six of the seven hand-knit hats you sent me to The Snowsuit Fund, which ensures that low-income children and teens in Ottawa are dressed warmly enough. Thank you SO much. (I personally adopted the seventh hat, by the way.)

    Buddy, that’s an interesting observation about socio-economic backgrounds, but I actually wasn’t bringing that into the equation. I don’t necessarily associate style or size with income. If I had to guess, I’d say that both of these families were of very modest income. (Also, I have to point out here that for the first half of my son’s childhood we were on welfare, so I’m the last person to say that poor parents are poor parents, if you know what I mean.) But I agree with your other points – that children can learn what to avoid by seeing where their parents went wrong.

    Arden, that must have been weird, living with both extremes at once. Your parents aren’t still together are they?

    Lynn, that’s interesting that you and your sister have such different perspectives on the same parents. Obviously I don’t know if this is true of your family, but I have heard of families where only one child is mistreated. One child gets singled out to play the role of family scapegoat, whether it’s psychologically or physically or both. That child provides one or both parents with an outlet for their frustration, and allows them to treat the other children well.

    Lola, it sounds like you made the most of a less-than-ideal situation. I’m glad you love your life!

  • I agree. I’ve been taking the bus this week since it was free and my bike needed repairs, for the first time in a few years. I noticed that the diversity of people on the bus is much greater than what I’ve encountered in my daily life or even on the street.

    But I got reminded this morning that the bus is on a schedule, and I can’t just leave the house and arrive at work a certain number of minutes later, so I’ll probably get back on the (repaired) bike tomorrow. It’s also easier to stop by a grocer on the way home when I’m on the bike, and I’m out of fresh produce.

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  • Convivialiddell

    So I guess that a lurker is coming out from the woodwork, mostly because this is something that is near and dear to my heart.

    I do think that if my parents were less absent, if they were more affectionate, if they were more available, I would be the same person, just with hopefully fewer issues. I think it’s interesting that you talk about a very young child to an Asian couple because my parents are Asian and I think there’s some signal that when you start kindergarten, your parents will stop touching you. Or at least I think that’s what happened to me because I don’t remember my parents touching me in an affectionate manner at all. Any sort of physical discipline happened behind closed doors either in a public restroom or in their bedroom. Just putting in my two cents.

  • Melinda

    Oh good! I was going to ask if you got them. I’m glad they went to people who can use them and that you kept one for yourself. I’m pleased you liked it that well. I’m curious though, which did you keep?

  • Convivialiddell, thanks for your comment. That’s sad that your parents withdrew affection when you were five. I’m curious though about whether it was a cultural thing or something peculiar to them? Did you notice it with other Asian families too, or just your own?

    Melinda, just so you know, I did send an email when I got them, but I got an out-of-office message back. I suspected later that you never received it. Anyway. Yes. I love the one I kept. Your package arrived the very day after I accidentally left my hat on the bus – right before the strike – and there just happened to be a snow storm so I really really really needed it. If you look at the post about the last stretch of winter, you’ll see a picture of me wearing the one I kept. Thank you. :)

  • Convivialiddell

    @ zoom!:
    I asked around and it’s something that’s really common, and I’m definitely not alone. I think it is, I guess, an “Asian” thing. Physical affection just stops about that age and then if a child wants physical affection they need to initiate it with their parents. Even then, parents tend to say something that translates to, “Wow, why are you being so affectionate? What is it that you want?” It’s pretty normal, or at least among the people that I spend time with.

  • Melinda

    @ zoom!: Ah yes, I went off on vacation and the mail must have gotten buried in my pile and lost. Sorry ’bout that! It looks like it was “my” hat, i.e. the one I made, loved and could never wear without nearly keeling over from heat stroke. I hope it is that one. I’d be glad to know it went to a good home.

    Randomly, I had a blackout and couldn’t remember your Inet address. Thanks to Duncan, I found it. I had to google Duncan the Norwegian Forest Cat to find you.