The parenting advice from my mom that I have to ignore

Motherhood—and mothers’ voices—should be celebrated every day. But that also means having conversations about the complexities of parenting. In our weekly series, “Millennial Moms,” writers discuss the simultaneously beautiful and daunting responsibilities of motherhood through the lens of their millennial experiences. Here, we’ll be discussing things like burnout from the several side hustles we work to provide for our kids and ourselves, dating app struggles as young single moms, rude comments from other parents at daycare, and so much more. Stop by every week for a judgment-free space on the internet where women can share the less rosy aspects of motherhood.

My mother is a sweet older African lady who has lived in the same house for almost 30 years. She spends her days watering her garden and taking on DIY home improvement projects when she’s not working early mornings at the local hospital. She’s honestly the perfect grandmother to my children, with one exception. Like all well-intentioned mothers, she is a treasure trove of idiomatic expressions and unsolicited parenting advice, so now as a grandmother, I guess it’s still part of the job description.

However, the disconnect between how she was as a parent and how I view my own role as a mother—especially as a mom in this day and age—is a big one. In 2019, things like advanced technology and progressing gender equality have completely changed the world we live in. There is no perfect parent, but I’ve realized that, in order to be the best parent I can be, I have to be selective with the words of wisdom I adhere to—especially when it comes to the following topics.

What I Hear: “If you don’t spank those kids, they’ll be spoiled rotten.”

“Spare the rod, spoil the child” was a far too frequent mantra in my Southern Baptist home. It was one of many justifications that my parents used for physical punishment. My siblings and I don’t have any hard feelings regarding these spankings, but as a parent myself, I can’t ignore the dozens of studies that prove hitting kids just doesn’t work. Studies show that spanking can trigger depression and low self-esteem, and incur extreme stress in children. Researchers also found that children who are spanked do not stop behaving badly, they just get better at lying about it.  Now that I’m older, I realize the kinds of destructive thinking that spankings may have contributed to in my adult life. I don’t want my kid to grow up with those interpretations of the world, so in this house, the rod is spared.

What I Hear: “Don’t let them spend too much time in front of the computer or TV. It’ll rot their brains.”

When I picked my 7-year-old up from his first day of school earlier this month, I mentioned to the school crossing guard, who had asked about it, that the 32-inch screen in my front seat was for my son’s room. The dirty look of disapproval from the crossing guard was anything but subtle. As a millennial, I grew up in an era when screens were becoming more present in our daily lives. Today, my child is assigned virtual homework.

Despite the tsk-tsking of boomers, I don’t treat technology like a time-wasting, brain-frying, all-consuming commodity. The future of technology is here, so denying my kid from using any screens will likely put him behind his peers in terms of technological development. I don’t teach him cursive—I teach him typing and digital literacy. My husband and I limit his access to these tech tools, but I have fully embraced the fact that necessary skills change with the times. Giving him the tools to explore the web with supervision is, to me, one of the best ways I can help his imagination grow.

What I Hear: “Raise him to be tough. All those feelings are in his head.”

Growing up in a lower-middle-class Black family in the south, counseling just wasn’t a concept I connected with. “Shrinks” were for rich white people who had nothing better to do than mope over their richness, or so I thought. It wasn’t until I became suicidal in college that I sought therapy. I didn’t think it would help me, but I went to the campus mental health services facility because I figured I had nothing left to lose. After the first few appointments, my therapist made me realize that suppressing my emotional trauma wasn’t true strength. In my family, our mental health problems were often swept under the rug. As the Black child of immigrants from a war-torn country, there was an unspoken, ever-present reminder that the world had much much bigger problems than what was going on in my mind. But once I began addressing my mental health in a meaningful and purposeful way, I realized that denying myself the opportunity to care for myself was only making things worse.

In my household, we are very open about giving our kids permission to express themselves. It’s an attitude that seems to be growing in African American households. I’m glad that my generation is learning not to police our emotions. Instead, we welcome them.

What I Hear: “Being gay is just unnatural.”

My father used to tell us to close our eyes whenever two people shared a kiss on-screen, no matter who was kissing. My parents were extremely conservative when it came to discussing romantic relationships of any kind, so sex and gender were never discussed in my home. Like many young women who are taught abstinence, my ignorance eventually led to pregnancy early in my life. While my mother never treated non-heterosexual couples differently than other couples, I had to navigate the spectrum of gender and sexuality on my own in adulthood. My children are still too young to formally broach the subject, but I don’t shy away from curious inquiries. Explaining simple concepts like why some people have two mommies or two daddies helps normalize diversity in love and relationships, while also making sure that my kids realize that people of all shapes, sizes, and genders hold the same weight in society. I’m teaching my kids that people’s personal lives have no bearing on their character. It’s a concept I wish I would have grasped long before the age of 22.

What I Hear: “Just buy your kids whatever they deserve.”

Money is always a touchy subject, no matter the context. My mother frequently asks me when I last bought my kids sneakers or new clothes. She muses passive-aggressively about why we don’t just get a house for the kids, and if it’s critical that my son goes 15 days without a haircut. I guess I can’t hold it against her. When she was my age, like many of her peers, she and my father were homeowners. They bought their three-bedroom home for about $85,000 in the late ’80s, and their combined monthly income of about $1,800 a month was enough to keep our family of five living in relative comfort. These days, that amount of money would barely cover rent for our two-bedroom apartment and two weeks of groceries. Her concept of how money is made and spent is very different from mine. I can’t take her advice on how to budget my finances because, when she was raising us, student loan debt, housing prices, and wages were manageable concepts. Now, not so much.

It’s not that I don’t want to buy my kids a house, it’s that we, like many millennials, can’t afford it. I would love to get a second car, believe me, but the way the gig economy is set up, I’m not even sure when I’ll be able to buy food. It’s a different time and the world has changed, especially economically.

I love my mother and I cherish her advice, but some tidbits are better than others.

I’m raising my children in a completely different time, so her words of wisdom can be a bit outdated. With any luck, I’ll be half the mother she was for me. With time, I’ll learn to ignore her judgmental hot takes and realize that being the best parent for my kids means being a different parent than anyone else.

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