Opposites Attract? Surviving Friends With Radically Different Parenting Styles
I hear a lot of mothers gripe about summer vacation and what the heck theyâ€™re going to do with a full house all that time. For expat mothers like me who are also primary caregivers, summer is a time for heading back to the motherland, which can generate exponential anxiety.
The benefits of a home visit â€“Â quality time with family, reunion with friends â€“Â usually outweigh the disadvantages. But then thereâ€™s the time away from your spouse, if he or she is lucky enough to have a job in your adopted place of residence. And the close quarters: all of a sudden youâ€™re not only play-dating other families, youâ€™re often bunking with them, too. Theyâ€™re seeing you at your (and your childrenâ€™s) worst. And everyoneâ€™s making judgments about the otherâ€™s parenting style.
This year I embraced all that transparency. I likened it to summer parenting school â€“ or an internship that might, eventually, qualify me for the job. Sure, my peers could be aggravating at times (please donâ€™t pull out the gummy bears before lunch), but they provided a window onto many real-life scenarios I might not have been better prepared to deal with. Like the father who comforted his child after a traumatizing rendezvous with a leech and had her back in the pond before dayâ€™s end. Or the mother who reminded me juice should be the exception, not the rule. The disciplinarian who coached her child to walk rather than expect to be carried. And driving: whoa, did I have a lot to learn about Baby on Board.
Then there were the hippies, the helicopters and the hot messes. The ones for whom schedules are anathema vs those for whom theyâ€™re the law; who let their children dictate the dinner menu; who kept the TV on past the watershed; who made everyone within earshot a nervous bloody wreck. Parenting styles are absolutely personal and family dynamics are unique, but watching other families work from the inside is an amazing eye-opener.
Who knows what they all made of me, she of the sluggish reflexes and the tendency to shout at the slightest provocation. The one who fed her two-year-old maki, then was taken aback when she choked on the seaweed. And never trained her toddlers to wear a life jacket or, at the very least, water wings in the lake.
I learned from those mistakes and others involving stairs, canoes and marshmallows â€“ not the hard way, thankfully, but just in time. You never do know when lifeâ€™s pop quizzes are going to occur.Â At least now I can say Iâ€™m better prepared than I was last May. Maybe next summer Iâ€™ll finally graduate.