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Monday, September 24, 2007

Parenting Is Not a Popularity Contest!

By Silvia Uribe

After speaking to a desperate parent, I decided to share my personal experience as a mother of two with those who feel sad and fearful of not being able to do a good job with their kids.
We have always known that being a good parent has never been an easy thing. We seem to always be judged not only by our own kids, but also by estrangers who may see that our moral values, style or customs differ from the norm. But having faced these, I think that the challenge is well worth it.

It is more so, if you come from a different culture, country, era, or whatever other differences there are, like we do. Yes, I might not look of a particular background, but my husband I have certainly taught our children our Latino, Mexican/Spanish to be more specific, ways with the “oh, so expected” whining on their part. The main thing we taught them is that family comes first, before work, friends, money and everything else. We’ve taught them this by example. We have also taught them to not only interact with adults, but also to respect and learn from elders, and for instance, to have the courtesy of standing up and giving them their seat when a room is full, and no more seats are available; to say hello and good bye when there is a person as they come in or out of a place; to eat at the dinner table (with manners too), and to share the good and bad of the day. As they were growing up, I never let them stay over at their friends’ home, no matter how well I knew them, which raised many eyebrows among their peers’ parents. If this is not terrifying enough for many, allow me to share that locks on doors and drawers are never used in our home to preserve our “privacy” to the point of not knowing who or what is kept behind doors (remember the Columbine High School incident, and what an arsenal these boys kept in their rooms without the parents knowledge?) We substitute locks with respect and trust. When there was a party, I always made sure to talk to the parents of whoever invited them to make sure they were going to be present (I can still remember the rolling of my kids eyes every time they handed me their friends' parents’ phone number). During high school age, I always suggested that the party would be at our home, just to make sure that things would not get out of hand. Oh, and as far as camps go I went with them to most Girl Scout camps, and we had a lot of fun together (scary huh?) Among many other things, we taught them the value of waiting for things, of nurturing their spirit, and their mind, of observing and analyzing people and situations, and the value of being able to accept “no” for an answer, but also the ability to recognize when they should and shouldn’t be persistent about their desire.

We had rough times, in which (not surprisingly) they really didn’t particularly like me, since I was the vigilante eye upon them. In those situations I always ask one thing from them: TRUST. What they couldn’t see through the crystal of their youth was that we were also teaching them patience, reasoning, decision making skills, and of course, responsibility. At the same time, they were gaining self confidence, and they were creating a self image that did not depend on others’ opinions. There were, and still are, rules at home for everyone to follow, including us parents. So, when my oldest daughter asked me what would change for her at home when she was about to turn 18, the answer was very easy: NOTHING! She would still have to follow the rules, as the rest of us did. Of course, as they were growing in age and maturity, they acquired a lot of more freedom, they started driving, working, socializing, and filling their time with fun and interesting activities like traveling the world (without us parents), to the point that the “fight” for freedom became a moot point, since they earned it with responsibility.

Yes, we had to be very firm, even strict at times, and it was certainly not always easy. Parenting is not a popularity contest, alright! We constantly had to endure the never ending “…we are not in Mexico anymore, mom…”, and the “…but all my friends do it…!” The truth of the matter is that we adapted and adjusted to a new culture, and we perfectly fit in the community, but we kept our identity. We had to teach our kids according to who we were, our moral values, and our culture. We had to make some tough decisions, risking being perceived by our children as “the bad guy”, but, in our view, that’s an ok price compared with the peace of mind of knowing that they’re well equipped for life now.

Our daughters have had a successful school career; one of them graduated from UCSB, holds a professional job in town, and is creating a name for herself in the community. The other one is still a student, has a job, and a very nice group of friends. But what I see as the most important thing is that we enjoy a wonderful, loving, and strong family relationship, where support, trust, loyalty, and respect are present for all of us all the time. We know we can count on each other! Hopefully, they will be able to replicate this, one day, with their own family.

So, if this kind of situation sounds familiar, whether or not you’re from a different background, don’t lose your calm, your cool, your charm or your strength when faced with difficult periods with your children. Recognize that you are just in the middle of the tunnel, trying to get to the other side, and you will….with time and patience. In the meantime, know that the prize to that patience and persistence will be to know that your children are strong, happy and prepared to fly on their own. So, for us at this point I can only say: so far, so good!

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.

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