I was hardly a green-under-the-gills teenage mother, clueless about how to take care of myself much less a newborn. And yet from the moment Isabella was born, many members of my family treated me as if I was.
It's no secret that my extended family (including my mother, one of my aunts, and my grandma) thinks of my parenting skills as flawed. I've blogged about their feelings that my treats policy is denying my kids their childhoods. My mother's belief that taking Isabella to have her hair cut would traumatize her for life. My grandma's insistence that enrolling Isabella in preschool would not only lead to Isabella spending thousands of dollars in therapy discussing her childhood abandonment issues, but that preschool was a place where selfish mothers dumped their children so that they could socialize with their friends.
I've heard it all, and I continue to hear it on a weekly basis. They contend that I grew up with very few rules, didn't go to preschool, ate as many sweets as my little heart desired, and didn't have a haircut until I was 10, and look how well I turned out! Despite my oft-repeated manta to them that I am making different choices for my children, and that different is not wrong, they neither respect or pay much attention to my parenting rules and decisions.
You see, my mother and my aunt (not the one who continually questions my mothering ability) were basically single mothers. My mom divorced my dad when I was three. My aunt had a husband who wasn't involved with his three children. And so, "the family" raised both my sister and me, and my three cousins. My mom and my aunt gave my other family members carte blanche to make decisions for us a lot of the time. There was no Internet. There was one baby book (Dr. Spock). And in the 70s and early 80s, pediatricians basically gave kids physicals, shots, and little in the way of advice. So my mother turned to her mother for parenting guidance, and followed whatever she recommended, verbatim.
I never had the intention of doing the same when I became a mother. And I haven't. Unlike my own mother did when my sister and I were young, I do not parent by committee. The hubs and I make the decisions for our kids, and we do not put these decisions up to a popular vote.
This? Is not popular in mi familiga.
And so, when they are around my children, and most especially Isabella, they disregard my rules. If we're at a family party, and I tell whomever is scooping ice cream to give Isabella one scoop, they give her two (and, mind you, this is after slipping her M&Ms in a back bedroom for the previous hour). If I say it's time to leave, my aunt will ignore me, and continue to play whatever game she's playing with Isabella. If a relative has given her a gift and Isabella forgets to say "thank you," I will remind her only to be admonished by a relative who tells me, "Oh, stop being so hard on her. She doesn't have to say thank you. She's only three." I feel as if there is nothing that I'm doing with my children that they approve of.
The most outspoken of my relatives is my aunt. She has no children of her own, and yet feels entitled to offer me assvice (and not in a kind way) about the myriad things she believes I am doing wrong. She has told me that taking the kids to the gym daycare (which is more like Club Med for kids than a daycare) is exposing them to germs, H1N1, filth, and unskilled employees. I don't dress them warmly enough. I should allow Isabella to have sweets whenever she wants them, and Isabella is only 3, and therefore should not be expected to use the bathroom or get dressed on her own, or have any chores for which she's responsible.
I have endured over three years of this kind of treatment from my aunt. She does not respect my parenting, and has more times than I can count done the exact opposite of what I've asked her to do when she's in the company of Isabella. At family gatherings at my grandma's she continually ignores my requests and the hubs' requests to please allow Isabella to socialize with some of the relatives she does not get to see that often on the main floor of my grandma's house. Instead, she takes Isabella upstairs to play in a bedroom, so she can have her all to herself. When I tell Isabella to please stop eating the cheese and crackers my grandma puts out on the hors de oeuvres table before our meal because I want her to eat her dinner, my aunt will give her more as soon as my back is turned. The list goes on and on.
And on Sunday at my grandma's house during a family party, in what admittedly was not my finest moment, I lost it. But my outburst was not unprovoked.
I don't give Isabella anything but milk or water to drink, unless it's a special occasion (for example, a friend's birthday party where it's being served). This is not a secret in my family, and they are all very much aware of (and of course, disagree with) how we are choosing to feed our kids. My aunt, sitting next to Isabella at dinner, says, "I'm going to go get her some juice, like I'm having." I very politely told her that Isabella had milk in a cup in front of her, and that her doctor and dentist recommend that she drink only milk or water, and I am following their advice. Mind you, Isabella had not even asked for the juice. My aunt would not drop it. "How about if I mix the juice with some water? What's wrong with juice? Why can't she have just a little?"
Of course, the issue here is not juice. As I've said before, it doesn't matter if we're raising our children as vegans, Buddhists, or Rastafarians. Parents make the decisions and friends and relatives do not undermine them.
It happened again a little later that night. Isabella had been given a huge piece of cake for dessert; this after finishing a vanilla ice-cream drumstick just before. I told my mom, who was serving the ice cream, to not give Isabella any ice cream with her cake, because she had just had the drumstick. She didn't. But then later, when I sat down next to Isabella to eat my cake, I noticed she had ice cream in her dish. You'll never guess who had procured some for her. After Isabella had eaten her ice cream, and about three-quarters of her cake, the hubs told her she had had enough (we feared her getting sick, as she had just consumed more dessert than any adult at the party had that night). Of course, she threw a fit, and my aunt, who was sitting on the other side of her, picked her up and whisked her away, no doubt telling her what awful parents we were for denying her her dessert. I went after them and heard her tell Isabella, "Let's go get your dish back."
I told my aunt that the hubs had taken away the cake because Isabella had had enough. She gave me a look that clearly conveyed her unhappiness with me, and took Isabella to play in another room.
And then finally, as we were leaving, my aunt was carrying around Isabella (something she does all the time, and which I find odd, given that Isabella is a 32-pound, three-and-a-half-year-old). I said it was time to go, and my aunt instead took Isabella off into another room, completely ignoring my requests to take Isabella to get her pjs on (we put the kids in their pajamas when at relatives' homes so we can get them right in bed once we're home). Once my aunt finally deemed it time to get Isabella ready to go, she was still carrying her around when I asked her to please put her down so Isabella could say her goodbyes to the rest of her family, and most especially to her out-of-town relatives who were there visiting. Isabella was overtired, up past her bedtime, and high on sugar. She didn't want my aunt to put her down. I asked my aunt to please set her down, and she loudly said, "Fine! If you want her to scream, I will!"
Isabella pitched a screaming temper tantrum.
And I? Had had it.
I turned to my aunt, and yelled "Will you please stop undermining my parenting decisions??!!??"
She said, "I would never do that!"
I said, "You do it all the time!!"
And with that, the hubs scraped up a screaming Isabella from the floor, I grabbed Luci (Nicholas was already in the car), and we left.
My mom who was privvy to my outburst as well as to most of the night's ongoings, and who knows her sister well, has told me that "you can't tell your relatives how to love your child." I believe she's wrong, because what my aunt is doing is not called "loving my child;" it is undermining my parenting decisions in front of my child. This not only causes Isabella huge confusion (and huge outbursts), but it is damaging her relationship with us, her parents.
This kind of treatment will also demonstrate to Isabella that she doesn't have to listen to directions or follow rules, that if one person refuses her demands or tells her something she doesn't like, she can always get her way by asking someone else, and promotes the idea that her parents are mean and listening to them is optional.
And it's not going to happen again.
Should I have had this discussion with my aunt privately? Sure. But do I feel so good about finally calling her out?
Bring on the family drama, because clearly, I need something else to occupy my empty days.