Last month we introduced our new advice column, “Ask Anoushka”, with certified family therapist Anoushka Beh, and this month we’re rolling out the first round of questions (and answers). Don’t forget you can always submit a question completely anonymously, mama! Just email email@example.com!
My husband and I have been married for 5 years and had our first child 6 months ago. My mother has been helping out since he was born, and we have been very grateful for that help. Unfortunately, she and I seem to have different parenting strategies, and we’ve had several disputes. Now that I’m back at work and she is spending more time with our son, she seems to think that she is the dominant caregiver and often overrules me when we have a difference in opinion about how a situation with him should be handled. On the last occasion she pointed out that she was a stay-at-home mother and I am working, so really needed to heed her advice more. I feel that my role as a mother is being constantly undermined, but don’t want to leave our son with our helper (who doesn’t have that much experience with kids). I want him to have his grandmother play an important role in his life, but am starting to feel resentful towards her. How do I deal with this?
– Worried Mum
Dear Worried Mum,
I’m sorry to hear that its been a challenging time with your mother, despite both of you probably having the very best intentions and a lot of love for your son. Conflicts of opinion between generations in the family when it comes to parenting are not uncommon — although I can imagine this is slightly trickier to navigate when you live with and feel reliant on other family members to help care for your child.
It’s insightful that you recognise the importance of your mothers’ continued role in your son’s life (having a child myself I can attest to the truth in the saying that ‘it takes a village to raise a child”). I’m sure while you may not always agree with the approach that she takes, that ultimately you feel your son is in safe and caring hands, and that they have a relationship that will continue to be significant as he grows.
Having said this, you and your husband are still at the core of his caregiving unit and should feel you have the autonomy to make decisions about how you want to be raising your son. Does he share your opinion about your mother’s behaviour? If so, it might be a good idea to discuss how the two of you can sit down together and have a conversation with her where you express your gratitude but also, in a compassionate forum, also explain your parenting philosophy and reasons for this. Try to take your personal feelings about your experiences as a child out of it (although feel free to explore these separately -* therapeutic support here may be helpful) – and while being firm, keep it as calm, objective and light as possible. It’s important that disagreements around opinions in parenting are also preferably not discussed in front of your son, as this can be confusing for young children and make them feel less secure about the caregivers in whom they seek consistency, stability and safety.
My partner and I have been dating for 3 years now. He is a wonderful man and we have a great relationship. The only catch is he has two children from his previous marriage and his ex-wife lives about 20 minutes away from us with her new partner. The kids live with their mother and we see them on the weekends. He introduced me to his son (8 years at the time) and daughter (5 years at the time) about 3 months into our relationship and I felt the kids and I really got along. The relationship with my partner is definitely moving towards a more serious commitment now, and I am worried about what this will mean in terms of my role (as a parent?) in their lives?
I’m also a bit concerned about their mother’s parenting strategies; they seem to be picking up bad habits from her (according to my partner), like swearing and becoming increasingly argumentative. I care for these children deeply, but don’t know how authoritative I should be and if I should be openly disagreeing with their mother’s behaviours ( as my partner often does with them) – any advice?
– Confused Step-parent
It’s never easy entering into the realm of another family’s territory, which is what is being asked of you. It’s great that it sounds like your partner’s kids and you have a rapport and connection with each other, however, you will have to be mindful about the steps you take, as it will not be beneficial to them in the long term if they feel you are undermining the role of their mother in their lives.
I would recommend envisioning yourself as playing an important, but secondary role for now — supportive of your partner but remaining as neutral as possible with the children about areas where there might be tension between the parents. It’s likely this tension between their parents is already stressful for them and they will benefit from a neutral third party who is already a part of their ‘safe circle’.
Instead of being too ‘direct’ in your parenting role, you can role model behaviours that you feel are a more constructive in response to conflict. They will then get the benefit of being exposed to alternate ways of responding and handling situations and understand that they have a choice- without having to feel there’s added tension in the mix. Take it a step at a time – it’s never easy navigating new territory, but ultimately if you’re motivated from a place of care and concern for them, it will be beneficial for all if you act as a supportive role model instead of feeling you have to take on the responsibilities as another mother for them.
Can’t Get out of this Funk
I’m a mother of three children (8, 6 and 3) and for over a year I’ve been waking up feeling like there’s a dark cloud hovering over my head. Sometimes I wake up in the mornings feeling anxious and have no idea why I’m feeling this way. Before the kids came along my husband and I worked for the same law firm where we met; I subsequently gave up my job in order to raise them but with the intention of going back. However the demands of being a mother made it difficult to go back full time although I initially tried to take on some part-time work after our second was born. I had to stop all together again though when our third was born. While I cherish motherhood and love my time with them, part of me longs to return to the work I enjoyed before and having a different kind of stimulation.
But, I have concerns about how this will impact my kids and also feel really guilty for wanting more. If you have any insights or suggestions about this I would be most grateful.
-Under a Cloud
Dear Under a Cloud,
It’s not uncommon for a mother who used to work fulltime (and enjoyed her career) to feel some sense of loss when she gives that up to look after her children. From your description, I sense that you felt impassioned about your work and will benefit from finding some way to return to it (even if this is just part time for now).
We live in a different generation from our parents today, where often the economical pressures demand for two parents to go back to work. Luckily, here in Asia we have the benefit of structures in place that help to support kids with this – whether it’s help from other family , daycare/school or a full time helper.
Parents I speak to today also tend to want to live fuller, more diverse lives and my perspective on that really is – the happier you are as a parent, the more you have to give your children.
Shelve the guilt, reconnect with what drives you and put in place systems that will help support your kids with this transition and the long term plan for this. Children ultimately benefit not from quantity, but the quality of the time you spend with them — and the more you’re able to bring your life into a place that feels right , the better you’ll be able to be authentically present with them.
Through this, you’ll also be role modelling for them that happiness is their birth rite, and that they get to chase after their own dreams and make that happen. If you’d like to learn more on how to do this – you can also check out a project that I’m currently launching at www.thishappy.co.