Last night we returned home from a family reunion. Admittedly we were anxious about attending because we live and parent differently from any of our relatives. We went into the reunion planning on talking about our life minimally so as not to create conflict or open ourselves to criticism. As it turned out, this reunion was yet another reminder that we are related to a remarkable group of people. Jess and I spent an incredible number of hours during the visit discussing how we parent and our way of life with relatives from different generations: grandparents, moms and dads, and future moms and dads. This happened because people sought us out and asked us questions. It continued because everyone involved entered into the conversations from a place of mutual respect and trust and openness.
Family reunions are fascinating to me because you have a unique opportunity to witness multiple generations of parenting in the same moment. You learn more about how you have gotten to where you are and you see how different parenting and environments, as well as the individual's journey, affect relationships. This window to the family's past can be threatening or painful to those who are a product of, or the creators of, the family's more recent parenting history. At the same time it can be daunting to those who are now taking up the role of parent and who want to change some of the family parenting patterns while still remaining respectful of their parents and grandparents.
In our family, as with most families, there has been pain and hurt and damage done in the name of "good parenting." There is a strong demand for perfection and an inclination to hide weaknesses (mental or physical) from people inside as well as outside the family. There is also an undeniable desire to be a "good parent". The challenge is in moving forward toward better parenting without hurting others by implying that their parenting was not good enough. In truth, that is not within our control. No matter how sensitive I am, I cannot control how someone else will feel about what I say or what I write. It is never my intention to hurt those who have parented or are parenting differently. However, it is most important to me that I do everything possible to facilitate better parenting for the present generation and the generations to come.
During the reunion there were times, primarily around meals or activities, when individuals were asked to stand up and share about their lives. The idea was that this way everyone would get to catch up even if they didn't find time to visit during the activities over the weekend. The last dinner of the reunion there was a push to get in the remaining people. The younger children were getting louder and louder as they waited to go paddle boating on the lake. Some of the kids began repeatedly running in one door, through the room, and out the other door. The parents scolded and resorted to using middle names and increasingly stern voices. When it was mentioned that I had not yet shared I realized that I could not. Instead I said that I didn't think it was right to make the kids wait and that perhaps we could do the sharing later in the evening. This comment was brushed aside and other people continued sharing. I excused myself from my table and went out to check on the children who had been sent out into the hall to play, without adult supervision. When I got to the door I found that it was locked and I'm afraid at that point I mouthed a word that most people in my extended family would find extremely offensive. Upon unlocking the door I found a small boy outside on the verge of tears who couldn't get to his parents (in fairness the door at the other end of the hall was open, but being three and upset he didn't have the awareness to know.) I invited the kids to come outside with me and they ended up running around in the sprinkler.
I never did have the opportunity to stand up and share. My not sharing, the fact that I spoke up about the needs of the children and my departure to meet their needs, says more about my development as a parent and a person than anything I could have said. In my life the needs and expectations of children are at least as important as the needs and expectations of adults. In my life children are not sent out to play in the hall or made to feel less important than adult conversations and agendas. It comes back to relationships. My relationship with these children and meeting their needs is more important than the expectations adults have regarding my behavior.