First Do No Harm

Welcome to the May 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting With or Without Extended Family

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how relatives help or hinder their parenting. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


Splashy take-off

Image by Steve-h via Flickr


The theme for this month’s carnival has me stumped. If I had had time to do a research post, I would have done that simply to avoid examining:


How Do You Write About Making Different Parenting Choices than Your Own Family Experience without Criticizing Your Parents?

I don’t have an answer to this question. I have begun this post multiple times now and each time I end up in the space of stating, “I chose x for my children because of these benefits and my own experience was y.” Toss in a huge helping of long term childhood abuse and the complicated emotional morass of the lack of protection from the adults I needed to trust and it becomes potentially angry and bitter.

I can’t even write about the decision to homeschool and my own experience in formal school because, even with the sweeping disclaimer that I’m writing specifically about our decision and not about public schools in general, I think that point would be missed in the face of comparison. I don’t think one way to school is better than another for everyone; rather I want parents to make the best choice for their family.

I’m sure many other writers for the carnival will be able to walk this line well. I don’t enjoy looking at this in the limitations of a duality, yet this is what is coming up for me as a writer.

I know that my family made the best choice for themselves that they could with what they had. I wish many things in my experience were different than they were. And I think that’s where many parents make their parenting decisions. They keep what felt good about their own experience and change what they didn’t like for their own kids.

I think it is possible to talk about your experience as a child separately from what your parents thought your experience was. But, how often is someone capable of making that distinction in something we feel as strongly about as our parenting decisions. Look at the breastfeeding and formula-feeding discussions. How often does the discussion stay out of people feeling personally attacked by studies or statements that adhere only to the action and not the person?

I value the idea that two people can have the same experience and come out with two equally valid truths about what that experience was. But, this idea is threatening to most people who want their truth to be The Truth. This recently came up in the Spank Out Day Carnival where parents who spanked thought they were instilling a particular lesson, but the children learned something else. It takes a strong person to listen to what their child might say about what spanking was like for them, and not feel attacked.

I discussed my dilemma with my husband, who seems to have made his own parenting choices alongside me without examining why. There are many things he has chosen that are radically different from his experiences, yet he doesn’t have an answer for me how he reconciles this without comparing. He simply doesn’t think about it.

I spoke with several friends who have chosen to parent in radically different ways than what they experienced growing up and they found that they couldn’t avoid the comparison. Actually, they admitted to slipping into judgment about what they experienced. Many of them understood the difference between blaming their parents and judging the experience-the glaring exceptions being in abusive situations.

The consensus advice was to write about the truth I felt in my childhood experience and differing adult choices while answering to the consequences. But, I feel it has really only been a year since I recovered memories of (and admitted to experiencing) long term abuse as a child. I’m not clear of it, yet. It will be a process and this post, while rambling and potentially obscure, is a part of this.

I’d enjoy hearing from you about whether you have made different parenting choices? If so, how do you reconcile the things you want to be different for your own children without comparing or even blaming? Or, if this dilemma doesn’t speak to you, I would like to hear what makes it different for you?


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon May 8 with all the carnival links.)

  • Dealing With Unsupportive Grandparents — In a guest post at Natural Parents Network, The Pistachio Project tells what to do when your child’s grandparents are less than thrilled about your parenting choices.
  • Parenting With Extended Family — Jenny at I’m a full-time mummy shares the pros and cons of parenting with extended family…
  • Parental Support for an AP Mama — Meegs at A New Day talks about the invaluable support of her parents in her journey to be an AP mama.
  • Priceless GrandparentsThat Mama Gretchen reflects on her relationship with her priceless Grammy while sharing ways to help children preserve memories of their own special grandparents.
  • Routines Are Meant To Be Broken — Olga at Around The Birthing Ball urges us to see Extended Family as a crucial and necessary link between what children are used to at home and the world at large.
  • It Helps To Have A Village – Even A Small One — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama discusses how she has flourished as a mother due to the support of her parents.
  • The Orange Week — Erika at Cinco de Mommy lets go of some rules when her family finally visits extended family in San Diego.
  • One Size Doesn’t Fit All — Kellie at Our Mindful Life realizes that when it comes to family, some like it bigger and some like it smaller.
  • It Takes a Family — Alicia at What’s Next can’t imagine raising a child without the help of her family.
  • A new foray into family — As someone who never experienced close extended family, Lauren at Hobo Mama wrestles with how to raise her kids — and herself — to restart that type of community.
  • My Mama Rocks! — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment is one lucky Mama to have the support and presence of her own awesome Mama.
  • Embracing Our Extended Family — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares 7 ideas for nurturing relationships with extended family members.
  • Doing Things Differently — Valerie at Momma in Progress shares how parenting her children far away from extended family improved her confidence in her choices.
  • Snapshots of love — Caroline at stoneageparent describes the joys of sharing her young son’s life with her own parents.
  • Parenting with Relies – A mixed bagUrsula Ciller shares some of her viewpoints on the pros and cons of parenting with relatives and extended family.
  • Tante and Uncles — How a great adult sibling relationship begets a great relationship with aunt and uncles from Jennifer at True Confessions of a Real Mommy.
  • Tips for Traveling With Twins — Megan at the Boho Mama shares some tips for traveling with infant twins (or two or more babies!).
  • Parenting passed through the generations — Shannon at Pineapples & Artichokes talks about the incredible parenting resource that is her found family, and how she hopes to continue the trend.
  • My Family and My Kids — Jorje of Momma Jorje ponders whether she distrusts her family or if she is simply a control freak.
  • Parenting with a Hero — Rachel at Lautaret Bohemiet reminisces about the relationship she shared with her younger brother, and how he now shares that closeness in a relationship with her son.
  • Text/ended Family — Kenna of A Million Tiny Things wishes her family was around for the Easter egg hunt… until she remembers what it’s actually like having her family around.
  • Two Kinds of Families — Adrienne at Mommying My Way writes about how her extended family is just as valuable to her mommying as her church family.
  • My ‘high-needs’ child and ‘strangers’ — With a ‘high-needs’ daughter, aNonyMous at Radical Ramblings has had to manage without the help of family or friends, adapting to her daughter’s extreme shyness and allowing her to socialise on her own terms.
  • Our Summer Tribe — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger shares a love of her family’s summer reunion, her secret to getting the wisdom of the “village” even as she lives 1,000 miles away.
  • My Life Boat {Well, One of Them} — What good is a life boat if you don’t get it? Grandparents are a life boat MomeeeZen loves!
  • Dear Children — In an open letter to her children, Laura at Pug in the Kitchen promises to support them as needed in her early days of parenting.
  • Yearning for Tribal Times — Ever had one of those days where everything seems to keep going wrong? Amy at Anktangle recounts one such day and how it inspired her to think about what life must’ve been like when we lived together in large family units.
  • I don’t have a village — Jessica Claire at Crunchy-Chewy Mama wishes she had family nearby but appreciates their support and respect.
  • Trouble With MILs– Ourselves? — Jaye Anne at Wide Awake Half Asleep explains how her arguments with her mother-in-law may have something to do with herself.
  • A Family Apart — Melissa at Vibrant Wanderings writes about the challenges, and the benefits, of building a family apart from relatives.
  • First Do No Harm — Zoie at TouchstoneZ asks: How do you write about making different parenting choices than your own family experience without criticizing your parents?
  • Military Family SeparationAmy Willa shares her feelings about being separated from extended family during her military family journey.
  • Forging A Village In The Absence Of One — Luschka from Diary of a First Child writes about the importance of creating a support network, a village, when family isn’t an option.
  • Respecting My Sister’s Parenting Decisions — Dionna at Code Name: Mama‘s sister is guest posting on the many roles she has as an aunt. The most important? She is the named guardian, and she takes that role seriously.
  • Multi-Generational Living: An Exercise in Love, Patience, and Co-Parenting — Boomerang Mama at The Other Baby Book shares her experience of moving back in with Mom and Dad for 7 months, and the unexpected connection that followed.
  • A Heartfelt Letter to Family: Yes, We’re Weird, but Please Respect Us Anyway — Sheila of A Living Family sincerely expresses ways she would appreciate her extended family’s support for her and her children, despite their “weird” parenting choices.
  • The nuclear family is insane! — Terri at Child of the Nature Isle is grateful for family support, wishes her Mum lived closer, and feels an intentional community would be the ideal way to raise her children.

28 thoughts on “First Do No Harm

  1. Pingback: Trouble With MILs–Ourselves? | Mamas Tribe

  2. Pingback: It Helps To Have A Village – Even A Small One Hybrid Rasta Mama

  3. I don’t like thinking about certain aspects of my childhood, because it makes me feel pain and a hint of bitterness. While I had a good childhood by most counts, there are things that I seem to have real hangups about and I always felt that my parents had a favourite child each, and despite being the oldest, it was never me. What has helped me maintain a relationship with my siblings and parents is the knowledge that my parents had little to no parental support when I was born, didn’t have the internet or the support networks we have today, and more importantly, were ten years younger than I was when I had my first. That has helped me ‘deal’ with it in many ways.

    I have been very open with my parents about the things that I do and don’t want with my children though, and for the most part, they’ve really taken it on board. My mother has a number of times how much she admires my parenting. Both my parents have expressed surprise and admiration for our choices, and that has been incredible to me.

    I find it hard, sometimes, not to be ‘angry’ at my parents – but I realised that there’s no point since they were doing their best at the time. Or so I have to believe. And being angry doesn’t bring me happiness.

    Thought provoking. Thanks Zoie

  4. One thing I totally avoid is quarelling. As a child this felt so threatening to me and I make absolutely sure to have what I call ‘effective communication’ even if I have different points of view so that my little one can see how to talk properly. I also breastfed untill my baby self-weaned (15 months) and co-slept for a year untill she needed a safer sleeping arrangement. She is fed (after 8 hours sleep) and changed 1-3 times throughout the night as necessary. These are all very different child care ways then my parents adopted. But I need to do what feels natural and right for me and they mostly accept this.
    Some in the extended family have experienced thrashings that left bruises. The dad did it because his dad did it, and his dad before him, etc. In our family that abusive tradition ended, it will never be that way here – ever. They did what they thought was right, and they didn’t know better – but we do so I live and let live. Our family will have no emotional scars that such abuse leaves, so we can work to make a positive change in our lives and not repeat the mistakes of those before us.

  5. This is really tough, Zoie. I am definitely making parenting decisions that are vastly different from those my own parents made, and I haven’t felt like I’ve struggled much with the comparison. Like your husband, I don’t really think about the differences most of the time. The difference for me, though, is that I’ve been processing my experience for many years. I knew in the midst of it how different it was from what I would want for my own children, so I have had plenty of time to think it all through.

    I can’t imagine what it would be like to have been through the trauma of abuse, and only have the opportunity to face and process those memories years down the road. I can see how those comparisons would be hard, even impossible, to get away from, and I can imagine that they’re a valid part of the healing process as well. Thank you for speaking so openly, as usual.

  6. I like the way you write–an openness to other’s ideas–and an openness to other “realities”. Yet–I sense that you also have a strong conviction for what is right for you. I think there is a wonderful dichotomy there–although maybe I’m just over thinking it. Or maybe, the courage to entertain all opinions, provides the foundation for a strong opinion of our own? As one of four siblings–I know that each of us (the four) had very different experiences growing up. As my parents grew older, they mellowed out and gained more wisdom–therefore the younger siblings were spanked less often and in general had a cooler upbringing. My older sister on the other hand, lived what I lived, but would swear that I EXAGGERATE. Maybe it’s Stockholm Syndrome–but I was a terror–and perhaps that’s why I received the brunt of the corporal punishment. Also, I understand the cultural and generational differences that brought about some of the behavior on my parent’s part. Many years later–my siblings and I range from 44 to 54 years in age. We are all completely normal in that we have a level of neuroses that is about average for our society. We are all reasonably happy and successful. We all have unconditional love and respect for our parents. I think it speaks to an ULTIMATE truth about parenting–if your actions come from true love–you will do mostly good. We all knew that we were loved. WE ALL KNEW THAT WE WERE LOVED!!!!!!!!!

  7. I do not consider myself to have come from an abusive background, even though my parents did spank. I do realize that my parents (especially my mom, who was our primary caregiver since she stayed at home) were working with the tools and education they had at the time. Things were different when I was growing up, and I do not hold that against them. I’m so sorry you were in a much more difficult situation, and I hope you find peace!

  8. I was incredibly lucky to have loving, consistent, and respectful parents, and I am raising my children pretty much exactly the way that they raised me. My mom is a huge inspiration and both my mom and my dad are great stores of information and support. I am very blessed to have the extended family that I do. . . and I wish that we were closer to them (in proximity).

  9. This is one of the reasons why I did not participate in the carnival this month. For one, I don’t know how to write about my parenting choices without growing bitter, or writing bitter, about the judgement and lack of acceptance from my family. Additionally, I see that my mother has, herself, felt so downtrodden throughout her life, and her pareneting choices are, so some extent, the source of her self esteem. So, for me to make different parenting choices means to her that her parenting choices were “wrong” which she cannot handle emotionally. Given that she does occasionally read my blog, I made the decision to avoid the topic altogether.

  10. I think it’s difficult. And this issue is the reason I didn’t write a post for the Spank Out Day carnival. I started to, but then realised I couldn’t write it without falling into judgement about being spanked as a child, sometimes very violently by my dad. And as both my parents do read my blog, I knew it would cause issues in the family.

    I think doing things differently without judgement is very difficult, and I’m certainly not in that place yet. I’m working on it.

    Thanks for sharing such an interesting post.

  11. Pingback: The nuclear family is insane! We love family and welcome community - Child of the Nature Isle

  12. Pingback: A Family Apart

  13. Pingback: Embracing Our Extended Family |

  14. Pingback: Snapshots of love: family support | Stone Age Parenting

  15. Pingback: Multi-Generational Living: An Exercise in Love, Patience, and Co-Parenting | the other baby blog

  16. “How Do You Write About Making Different Parenting Choices than Your Own Family Experience without Criticizing Your Parents?”

    I do it because I am a different person than my mother and father are, and my husband comes from a different family with different values. Also, the responsibilities and personality balances between my husband and I are different than either my parents or his parents. The new family my husband and I have created purposefully includes some things and excludes others. Our new family is a mix of both of our old families. It would be wrong to try to be our parents just as it would be wrong for me to try and be someone I’m not.

    It sounds like you’ve look at what things were beneficial to you (try to do those), harmful (try not do to those), but ultimately you have to look at who you are and what works for you.

    Looking at my parent’s parenting and marriage is like reading an article on parenting. Some things that work well for other people won’t work for me because of my personality (mellow/calm vs energetic). But that’s okay because I’m the only one who can be myself and the best example I can give my child is being true to who I am and not being someone else (whether that other person is their grandparent or Mother Theresa herself).

    And that’s where the basics come in: love, compassion, consistency, etc. We can all show the basics through our own individual lenses. In fact, even though we’ve discussed and agreed on basics, my husband and I do things and parent quite differently. I could be worried, but instead I’m happy because our children get exposure to different personalities and viewpoints while still being loved and encouraged.

    You don’t have to put other people down for being who they are. I can tell my children without anger or resentment, “Your grandma and grandpa made these choices when they were parents because of who they are, the experiences they lived through, and the cultural expectations of the time. Your dad and I are making these other, different choices because we are different people and we don’t have to do things the same way.”

    Good luck with your own journey, whatever it may be.

    • Thank you for your comment, Allie. I think that is a healthy way to view the differences in parenting styles. I agree that those motivated your own ability to write. What’s interesting is how rarely the reader doesn’t receive things in this way, and I think this is more where my post is centered. If you’ve read anything at all by me, my approach is nonjudgmental. It is through compassion and connection. This post is centered on the question of truth of one person being received as truth. How often do online words result in arguments? Add in the emotional dynamics within families and the change for causing harm increases. Include abuse or other issues that families wish to deny, and it increases yet again. I will qualify these with “often” or “may” as I read that you have an ideal experience with your parents. I value that you shared your experience of positive reactions.

      I disagree that comparing or criticizing is the same as putting someone down. I apologize if it seemed I was saying that.

  17. Thanks for sharing this. I think one of the reasons so many of us blog is to work through our feelings and past experiences. Examining why we parent the way we do and the influence of our parents can make it even more so difficult. I appreciate your willingness to allow us a glimpse of not only the writing process for you, but an obviously difficult and painful subject.

    • Thank you, boomerangmama. I had no idea that solo blogging would end up being cathartic. I’d written so long for others, that I hadn’t realized it. I think one of the strengths of the blogging medium is the ability to post raw, unfinished, unformed essays on thoughts (along with more polished pieces.) I find these posts the hardest to publish but see them as a view into the process. Every time I read someone else’s raw posts, I’m moved and feel connected. It helps to put the words out there.

  18. Pingback: Dealing With Unsupportive Grandparents | Natural Parents Network

  19. I didn’t write for this carnival because of the question you pose…especially since both my mother and mother-in-law read my blog. I find myself biting my tongue a lot these days for fear of their reactions, and since we *have* had reactions to some things in the past, it’s not an unfounded fear.

    I have childhood experiences that walk a fine line – whether or not they were abuse depends on who hears the story and what their background is. And in some respects, it doesn’t much matter which side of the line they were on – for me, they were awful experiences, things that have forever altered my relationships with certain family members. I know that there are people who I cannot trust to care for my children, for example, and that will hurt them if it ever comes up, but it is what it is.

    I’m not sure I’ve forgiven them – but I believe that they were probably doing the best they could with the issues they have….and that makes me want to be the one who makes things different for my own kids. I want it to end here.

    I know we make different choices – or at least, we try to – at our house. We’re not perfect at it – it is *hard* to change those ingrained patterns when they’re the only examples you have.

    • Thank you for commenting, kadiera. You make an excellent point about how the experience can be shared, yet be differently understood by people. I am sorry you experienced spanking as a child. It sounds as though you have been healing as an adult and making choices that further that.

  20. Pingback: My ‘High-Needs’ Child and ‘Strangers’ | Radical Ramblings

  21. Pingback: A Heartfelt Letter to Family: Yes, We’re Weird, but Please Respect Us Anyway « alivingfamily

  22. This was just fascinating to read, Zoie. I sometimes struggle with writing things that may upset my extended family or sound like a criticism. In the end, I choose to speak my own truth and I do not own how other people hear it. When I come from love and not judgement then I feel more confident that my words will be received as they are intended.

    It has been a long journey for me to discover that I am capable of radically forgiving my parents–radical because they have not asked for forgiveness nor acknowledged how their actions impacted my life. I choose now to focus on the many things they did RIGHT during the years when they were mired in their own hurt and brokenness.

    Your courage to explore this issue is so profound, Zoie. May the Universe some day create a way for you and I to cross paths so that our souls might support each other and sow the seeds of a tribe for our children to grow in.

    Joy to you,

    • Thank you, Patti. I was uncomfortable publishing this post. I’m still unhappy with it, but it is in progress. A big part of wanting to publish now is to observe the changes I feel as I work through this. Another big part of publishing was to hear experiences from others, whether they disagree or not.

      I agree with you that speaking truth from the heart is key to causing the least harm.

  23. Pingback: Hybrid Rasta Mama: It Helps To Have A Village – Even A Small One

I love comments and try to reply to each one. I look forward to connecting with you. Namaste

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