I'm a new mom—my little boy is only six months old and now that we're getting a normal amount of sleep, I've started to accept my new role in life as a mother. The transition to motherhood hasn't been easy for me and the more I see everyone's #perfect lives on Facebook and Instagram, the more pressure I feel to be some sort of super mom, which would be fine if that went along with my personality—unfortunately, it doesn't. Luckily, I have an excellent role model, my own mother, who to this day describes her parenting style as "benign neglect."
I'm very close with my mother. We've always had a special connection because I'm her favorite child (don't tell my brother and sister; it's our secret). I won't be able to parent exactly as she did due to the new trend of people calling Child Protective Services if you let your children play in a park unsupervised and I would also prefer not to cut off all of my child's hair just because he has lice. However, there are some things she did that I could definitely see myself doing down the road. I call it "Jane's Guide to Benign Neglect."
1. Television is a great babysitter. "No screen time before two years of age" recommendations and all of the research on the topic can make you feel like a truly terrible mother these days, if you plop your kid down in front of the TV in order to unload the dishwasher or cook dinner or drink wine. My parents didn't restrict our TV watching. I grew up to be a librarian. My sister is a lawyer and my brother, an artist. I don't think it hurt us at all. I plan on letting my son watch whatever I deem to be a reasonable amount of TV.
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2. Go play outside. She told me to get out and I got out. For hours. No supervision, no cell phones—just running around, riding bikes and reading books while lying on blankets. We played in the park, got incredibly dirty and went home eventually. Luckily, my husband and I live in a neighborhood where kids can play outside but I know my son won't have the freedom I had as a child, which makes me a little sad.
3. Fine, play Jelly! Jelly was a game where we wore no seatbelts in the back seat and rolled around whichever way the car was going, which was particularly fun and perilous on winding roads. My son will never get to play this game which is probably for the best. It was totally, insanely dangerous. Ditto on sitting on a bean bag in the back of my dad's van on long road trips.
4. Stay in the car. Sure, there was some slapping and fights over the radio but we all looked like perfect angels when Mom came back from the liquor grocery store. Sigh. This one is a huge no-no these days and I've already experienced what a pain in the butt it is to lug my baby on every little errand. I like the new safety features of seat belts and car seats but it's a shame we can't leave our kids in the car anymore.
My parents didn't restrict our TV watching. I grew up to be a librarian, my sister is a lawyer and my brother an artist. I don't think it hurt us at all.
5. Let's play Beauty Salon. We had this game where I pretended to wash my mom's hair. She loved it so much and now I know why. It was a very long head rub from tiny hands. I hope my son wants to play this game someday. Right now, he just rips my hair out from the scalp—not soothing at all.
6. You're never too young to travel. I was just six months old when my mom took me to Puerto Rico. All the flight attendants and the pilot took turns holding me. A far cry from the women getting their breast milk destroyed and being asked to leave the flight because of their crying child. I was 16 when I went to live in Spain for a year, with no GPS tracker on me. If there was, it would have been lighting up at all the bars in Madrid. I hope my son gets my adventurous spirit, travel bug and ability to drink responsibly.
7. Sleepaway camp is a great place to spend the entire summer. We went to camp for 8 weeks. I loved it. I made friends for life and I learned so many skills (archery, sign language, mime, canoeing and how to build a campfire). Now, as an adult, I realize how much fun my parents must have been having while we were away. Naughty fun. Gross. These days it doesn't seem like parents send their kids to overnight camp as much, or for as long, but my dream is for my son to go to my same summer camp.
My mother always takes two showers a day. I thought she was very obsessed with bathing. But now I get it—she was escaping us.
8. You're coming with me. My mom took me with her on non-kid related excursions like Saks Fifth Avenue, dive bars in Manhattan to hear my cousin sing folk songs and museums that were not child-focused, like the Frick and the Guggenheim. She left the kiddie stuff to my dad—like amusement parks, camping and sledding. My son will definitely not be going sledding with mommy; I hate snow. I'll be just like my mom—hot cocoa ready to go for them when they get back.
9. Entertain yourself. My mom always had a book she was reading and would take it anywhere, including a Knicks game with my father. I turned out to be a voracious reader and believe my mom's reading habits influenced mine. I'm not sure how that's going to work in the digital age but I want books to be important to my son. Handheld electronic video games existed in my youth (I'm not THAT old) but I never had one. I would prefer for him to bring his book and read quietly, just like I did.
10. See your own movie. Kid movies were attended only by kids and our parents went to see something else playing around the same time. Or just dropped us off at the theater. Do people still do that? Is it legal?
11. I'm taking a shower. My mother always takes two showers a day. I thought she was very obsessed with bathing. But now I get it—she was escaping us. It was the one place she could be alone. I wait until my husband is home to take a shower most days, so I don't have to rush and it's the most glorious 15 minutes of my day.
12. Bring me some more wine. This was one of my parents favorite activities for us to do, fetch them more wine. They watched TV and yelled for us to fill up their glasses. I can't wait till my baby is big enough to fetch things for me!
What were your moms like? Always around? Never around? What things will you carry on and what things will you let go? Share your thoughts or get some things off your chest from your childhood in the comments below.