My husband and I are tremendously lucky to receive a great deal of family support in bringing up our child. For both of us, not only did it ensure that we got through those early, difficult stages of adjusting to being a parent, but we both got to go back to work with relatively little stress or chaos. And for my daughter, it’s a wonderful gift – especially for someone like me, who lived thousands of miles from my beloved grandparents – to be able to spend so much time with the eldest generation of our family.
Still, where there’s a village, there’s an argument. And when you’re a very gender-conscious parent, trying your best to raise your child by your carefully nurtured feminist principles, it can make you wince when someone else does it differently. Especially when you owe a debt of love and gratitude to them in the first place! What follows is merely a description of the ways in which we’ve managed conflict resolution, but I don’t claim to be an expert. I can only hope it helps – or at least gives other parents the reassuring feeling that they’re not alone!
1. Picking My Battles
There are things that bother me a lot, and things that I can live with. Sometimes, when I’m about to start a lecture over some bit of pink and fluffy frippery that someone has given my daughter and which the grandparents haven’t seen fit to simply chuck (as I would), I remember that actually there’s very little sparkly nonsense in my daughter’s life, and some is just fine. I paint my nails and layer on eyeliner while still being a feminist. My daughter can still radiate awesomeness from afar and play with a rubbish plastic handbag. Balance is everything (and by ‘balance’, I mean as little as I can get away with).
2. Making Time for Diplomacy
I’m afraid with my own family I am still inclined to be a spoiled brat and go on the offensive, or just roll my eyes in a long-suffering, passive aggressive manner. This helps no-one. I am slowly learning to more gently explain, for example, why saying “now, sit down in that chair like a lady” is bothering me, and actually the things that you take the time to talk through tend to be the ones that get resolved faster than the ones you’ve had a hissy fit about. [Note: from what I’ve observed from friends, this won’t work if your parents / in-laws are just dreadful. Luckily mine are all good people. Soz.]
3. Presenting a United Front
This one rather assumes a two (or more) parent family. In any household where Mum is the primary caregiver, her concerns can end up being brushed off as a stuck record – or the dull rantings of a hysterical woman. Dad, or any other parental figure, also needs to step in, especially when the ‘offender’ is on their side of the family. Egalitarian parenting makes life so much easier for everyone, including the child, and prevents anyone being able to play off parents against each other. And actually, the time that it takes to quietly discuss what needs to happen next can take the heat out of an irksome situation so that step 2 is much easier.
All of the above is, of course, common sense, but in the exhaustion and drama of everyday life – with the addition of a lifetime’s worth of your own parent-child issues – these simple things can easily get forgotten. I’m forever having to remind myself to be more thoughtful and tactful; if I forget it’s generally a reproachful look from my daughter to me that brings home to me just how painful it must be for my mother to have snarky dismissiveness turned on her yet again after over three decades as my ultimate pillar of strength. Ultimately, while you have to remember that gratitude should not mean that you simply accept things you would otherwise reject, it does buy a little bit of a patience and understanding. And, honestly, they can’t get it that wrong; after all, you turned out okay didn’t you?
Don’t answer that.