How Can I Be A Different Parent Than My Parents Were?

I’m about to have my first child and I’m worried that I won’t be a “Fun” parent.

MOLLY: This came from a reader based in Washington, DC, and she added that she wants to build a “fun, active, creative, easy-going household, not one based on strict discipline and chores.” She also mentioned that she was an only child and didn’t remember “having a lot of good, creative FUN” during her childhood.

Dr. Susan Rutherford (Molly’s Mom):  It’s certainly common to be anxious before having that first child and to wonder about what kind of a parent you’ll be.

This mom feels that her own childhood was lacking in fun experiences because of her disciplinarian parents and now she worries that she’ll need to focus on the responsibility of being a parent and either she won’t have the time to play with her child or she won’t be able to because she didn’t have that role model in her parents.

I have to reassure her that she is now an adult and soon will even be a mother, too. This means that she is free to create her own definition of a household and is not tied to replicating the one her parents envisioned. If she wants to create a fun, active, creative environment for her kids, that is completely within her power to do so.

Awareness is always the first step when you want to change a pattern. If she’s aware of what she did and didn’t like about the way her own parents addressed parenting and running a household, then she can consciously choose what to emulate and what she wants to do differently with her own kids. It can help to talk this through with a spouse or a therapist in order to see things clearly without emotional filters.

As for the execution of her plan, she can enjoy moments of fun and play with the baby even in the beginning when babies take a lot of work. Joining a baby group will help her meet other new mothers and see how they interact with their babies while launching her new parenting model of doing activities together with her child.

MOLLY: It seems like in my world, the dads spend more time simply playing with the kids while the moms are responsible for overseeing the day-to-day grind of chores, meals,  homework…

DR. RUTHERFORD: It’s true that even in our modern society many families still depend on the mother to take care of all the basic necessities while the father comes home and provides play time and entertainment for the child. Parents can work together to change this division of labor by identifying how they can share more of the chores in order to share more of the fun times.

But, this mom can also take everyday tasks and make them fun. For instance, she can make the daily, routine activities such as getting meals ready, bath time, and reading a book together at bedtime, more fun for both her and her child by simply approaching them with a joyful and playful attitude and a smile on her face. Life is as fun and playful as you make it for yourself and those around you.

MOLLY: She did mention that she was an only child and doesn’t remember having a lot of fun because of chores and discipline.

DR. RUTHERFORD: I think she can succeed in creating a different world for her child than she had for herself as a child because she’s so conscious of it. The key is to be conscious of what she wants to create for her family because then she won’t unconsciously repeat the parenting from her own childhood.

ding 8 comments on “How Can I Be A Different Parent Than My Parents Were?

  1. This is a sad story.

    As a young child, I can remember our neighbors being very strict (abusive) parents. They not only had strict rules, but they beat their children. This was very sad. My Mom didn’t report them to CPS, and sometimes I think she should have, but back then people didn’t “meddle” in other folks business. We, on the other hand, had fun. Our Mom did the things in our home that those children had to do next door. As we grew older, of course, we had to begin to help around the house including keeping our bedrooms clean and washing dishes (we took turns). Actually, my Mom said that as a child she remembered having to do chores that her Mom should have been doing, so she wanted her children to be children.

    At any rate, of course it’s great that this young lady realizes and conceptualizes the difference between being too strict and desiring to have fun with her child. She should raise her child in a loving, fun environment. I’m not saying that her parents didn’t love her, but I’m sure sometimes she wondered.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, there should be age-appropriate chores. Children should learn to keep things tidy, have parameters, and learn organizational skills. This will also help them in school, when visiting others, etc. Children must be disciplined, but with love considering how they’d want to be treated.

    I also caution parents not to embarrass their children in front of others. My God! Don’t they realize children grow up and remember these things? These are the very people (your children) who will more than likely choose your convalescent home (smile). More than that, parents should want to have great relationships with their children as they keep the roles of parent/child. Today, my siblings and I love hanging out with our 80 year old Mom. She treated us like angels and she disciplined us with love. There is a difference, but parenting can happen with joy.

    I hope my little tidbit helped some.

    Best of luck –

    • Cherrye – You’re right – this is a sad story. But it sounds like your own experience with your family was quite different – and wonderful. And, you’re right, children remember everything, consciously or not, as they grow up into adulthood. The trick is to be conscious of wanting to do something differently.

  2. My 8-yr-old daughter broke down and cried yesterday about how desperately she wants a sibling because then she’d have someone to play with. This is not a new issue for my only child, but a new factor emerged: “When I am with Daddy he’s always working and I just read or draw and when I am with you you’re always cleaning and I just read or draw and when I watch a movie it’s by myself. I want someone to play with!”

    The fact of the matter is that I work like crazy when she’s with her dad, and then when she’s with me, since I am not at work I am trying to keep out house from descending into utter disorder. It’s only me here – if I don’t do it, who will? My mom worked all the time when we were growing up, but I had two sisters, plus I lived in a different time and a different place where it was the norm to just “go out and play” and maybe I’d show up at some friend’s door or whatnot, but it might be hours until I came home. Playmates were plenty and readily available. Now unless I prearrange a playdate with some other overworked parent and drop her off for it, it doesn’t happen. And Impromptu playing is a thing of the past.

    I don’t want to be the parent who does nothing but work. But while there are realities at play, these should not be the concerns of an 8-yr-old. She just wants to play board games and dolls and such. Since the go-to-your-friend’s-house-and-play factor isn’t available anymore, and there are no siblings, how can I be her playmate and still maintain the parental role (not to mention keep up with the endless housework?)

    • Emily,
      In this day and age, this is a very real issue for kids. Your 8 year old REALLY wants someone to play with; you are probably second best to playing with someone her own age. I think it’s difficult for parents to continually play with their kids for obvious reasons. However, putting aside the housework from time to time will pay off for her – and for you. Having some fun with your kid is highly beneficial, letting go of the usual parental do’s and don’ts. Otherwise, life can get pretty grim.
      What I would first recommend is to make a concerted effort to seek out her friends and their parents at school and talk about exchanging kids for after school, and during the summer vacation coming up. This might take a bit of time to set up, but will be well worth it. Your kid will be forever grateful to you for making the effort, and you yourself will feel much relieved.
      Give it a try!

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