Growing up, I was fascinated with how other moms ran their households. For instance, one friend’s mom served chocolate milk at meals. At every meal! Another mom, who had a great sense of humor and genuinely liked having us kids around, had the best supply of junk food in the county. Another let us use the guest quarters whenever I spent the night. Not the guest room – the guest quarters with a kitchen, den, private bath, and cable on the bedroom TV. Then there was the mom with the pool where, if we hadn’t brought our bathing suits, stripped down to our underwear was good enough.
Then there were other moms whose rules, not their generosity, got my attention. There was the mom whose daughter wasn’t allowed to sit on her bed after it had been made, much less play with dolls on it. I remember the day I unwittingly broke the rule. That mom’s disappointment and anger were memorable. We pretty much only played outside at that house.
There was a mom with a household of sons who insisted that they either go barefoot inside or wear their shoes but not go around the house just wearing their socks on their feet. This was a wealthy family. It wasn’t as if she couldn’t afford for their socks to wear out. Besides, the boys likely outgrew their socks before they wore them out.
Growing up, it was interesting to observe the different ways moms were restrictive and how they were generous. The generous moms tended to be generous in most things. The restrictive moms tended to be restrictive in most things. And the moms who were balanced, brought balance to most things.
All three types of women are complex, though. When a generous mom has reached her limit and she clouds up and rains all over her child, the young one feels shamed and betrayed. When balanced moms become imbalanced every once in awhile, life feels scary to the kids. When restrictive moms are generous, in its unexpectedness it can feel like a miracle.
I am writing this blog entry because I was walking around the house in my stocking feet this morning and the mom whose boys couldn’t do this in her house came to mind. I bet some of those boys’ children have been free to run around the house in their stocking feet their whole lives, bringing pleasure to their dads who, in this instance, won the internal battle called, “I’ll never do that to my kids!” And other of the boys probably have their children either going barefoot or wearing their shoes when they’re inside the house; with power struggles underway when the cousins visit each other!
It occurred to me this morning that whether parents are restrictive or generous, it’s all a choice. There is no moral value to anyone of any age not playing on their bed after it’s made. The mom with the great sense of humor whose kids and their friends think she’s awesome because her pantry has the best junk food in it available to be enjoyed any time of day isn’t a better mom just because her kids and their friends find her easier to hang out with. It’s all choices that come with consequences.
There were likely deeply emotional reasons for the mom who believed made beds were meant to be left pristine till bedtime – reasons based on her relationship with her own parents. Even though a made bed being played in created what appeared to be rage in her, that emotion did not validate her choice as the “right” choice.
The mom who chose power struggle over socks wasn’t making either a right or wrong choice, no matter the emotions or history behind the choice. The mom with the best and restriction-free pantry wasn’t making either a right or wrong choice, no matter how many assume her kids grew up facing health issues directly related to that pantry.
We make choices every day for how to run our households and our lives that directly affect our relationships with each other and with our selves. When we make a personal preference a battle ground, we enliven a choice with an energy that is out of proportion to the fact that it is just a choice and another can be made.
It comes down to whether being right or being in relationship is more important. Those who choose to be in relationship tend to fight fewer battles. They are more likely to be present in the moment. They are more inclined to appreciate people for who they are rather than what others can do for them.
When boundaries and the word “no” come from the place of choosing the relationship over being “right,” relationships are maintained and nurtured. Just so, giving permission and the word “yes” then carry more weight.