All of a sudden, when we knew it was real and we really were going to have a baby, all of the deep seated assumptions and cultural biases came out with a vengeance. We had been married for years, had developed calluses over any sore spots and were rubbing along fairly well. Then we got pregnant and all of that went away. Now, five years later, we are still working and negotiating through it all. I think it will be a never ending process as our deepest beliefs and upbringing show up when it’s time to make decisions, big or small.
My husband’s parents were loving authoritarians and mine were hippies. He was raised to respect authority and always use titles of respect. As a grown man, when his mother called his name, he would respond with “Mande Mama” (literal translation: “Command me mom”). Now, don’t get me wrong, there was a deep love there which is why he does his best to raise his son in a way that his mother would approve.
I was raised with what I will call talk therapy. My parents got through the ‘why’ stage by actually explaining, in sometimes excruciating detail, the hows and whys of whatever we asked. Later, we spent a lot of time looking things up in the dictionary. An actual big Meriam Websters dictionary with a place of honor in the home. My husband could ask why, but only after he had completed whatever was asked of him. My family would talk it through, and still does. I am sometimes frustrated at how long it takes to come to a decision about anything, but decisions, once taken, are well thought out and not often regretted. We do sometimes suffer from analysis paralysis.
There are pros and cons of each approach and we have decided to take a middle road. We encourage the use of honorifics for adults and are teaching our son to say “Mande Usted” when we call his name. On the other hand, we do explain why we are changing plans or asking him to do something. We also invite his input when appropriate and let him make decisions (like wearing all of his clothing backwards, which has been a thing for months now) as often as possible.
We are constantly looking for the sweet spot between the approaches of our parents. Luckily we are both able to see the value of the other approach and that helps a lot. We also back each other up even when we disagree and hash it out later. My husband has softened his manner immensely and I am constantly trying to find a balance.
Each day presents new challenges because, of course, there are some commands that must be obeyed without question for safety reasons. Also, without some control over behavior, each and every thing that you try to do would become a constant negotiation. I am not willing to do that. On the other hand, I committed to treating him as a person from day one. Part of that commitment includes explaining why I ask him to do what I ask him to do and not do. Sometimes he gets it and sometimes he does not, but he always knows that there is a reason, even if it is that I am tired and just need things to be easier that day. Most of the time he responds very well.
Most of the time I allow him to make choices, and most of the time I say yes when he asks for something. However I also fully own my prerogative as his parent to say no or that he must do something. He knows that when that happens, it is not negotiable and complies.
My husband, I think, will always tend more toward the authoritarian model and I more toward mentorship parenting where I act as a guide in his quest to learn about the world and who he will become. I find that having both in the household is striking a balance and our son is learning how to behave in different situations. When we are with his father’s side of the family there are certain expectations of behavior, which are different from the expectations of behavior with my family and at school. For example, hugs are expected every time you say hello and goodbye to anyone on the Mexican side of the family. This includes if you are at a party with thirty people, you must seek out each person to acknowledge them when you arrive and when you are about to depart. It is a beautiful custom, but it did take me a while to get used to it. One effect of learning this custom is that I hug my parents more often than I ever did before. My son is easily able to follow that custom when he is with his father’s family, and the more casual greetings for mine. It works for us.
For now, we will just keep muddling through, enjoying our bright, beautiful boy. How do you decide on the type of parenting or customs to follow, especially if you come into parenthood with very different backgrounds?