A personal challenge of mine is to stop clinging to the need to ‘get it right’! I regularly think I’m right, because it’s what I’ve been practising my whole life. It wasn’t until recently (when it came to raising children) that I encountered a different ‘way’ – my husband’s. And any time I didn’t agree with him, there was also a ‘right’ way of doing things – my way. This is often called binary thinking – the good or the bad, the right or the wrong. A world where things are black and white. I soon realised that it was time for this kind of thinking to expire, especially when it came to choosing our family style.
Soon after becoming a parent I heard about two contrasting family styles common in the US of A. One favours raising highly independent children who leave home full of self-sustainability, and the other prizes connected closeness and sees success as maintaining that state of interdependence between parents and children. Now, I know which style I lean towards, but as it was explained to me – neither is wrong or bad. They are merely different styles of doing family, and both can be done in healthy or unhealthy ways.
What did we want our family style to be? Were we a ‘typical’ Kiwi family? What does that even look like in a modern world? I realise I don’t have to fit into the traditional role of a wife and mother, and accordingly, Hamish doesn’t have to be a stereotypical dad and husband.
When it came to the children, I stayed at home initially and Hamish worked outside the home. As time progressed I started earning again on limited hours. It felt like I had a foot in each camp – I was part stay-at-home mum, part working mum. After this period, I then went back to work full-time and Hamish was the part-timer. Over the last three years I have been able to spend most of my time with the family – a complete joy and a privilege. The point being, we’ve had lots of differing situations that have required us to adapt and work with what we’ve got. We’ve decided we can do family our own way – as long as we work as a team and make choices intentionally.
Another example of our mixed roles is that Hamish is more likely to change all the sheets and be putting another load of washing on. We were washing dishes the other night and he said, “Wow, that oven’s dirty! I might clean it tomorrow.” Hamish is more likely to ensure the kids have sunblock on, or are in bed on time. He is a ‘mum-dad’ – a phrase a dear friend coined in her speech at his 40th birthday, and it’s truly apt. Funnily enough, the children call us ‘Mum-dad’ or Dad-mum’ all the time! It’s nice that we both play to our strengths – unity certainly brings a blessing.
Because of our fluid family style, I’ve found it a waste of time and energy comparing our family or feeling like we don’t measure up to others. Last week, a mum who had come to collect her boy said, “I feel bad for over-scheduling my son.” I was amused to recall feeling guilty earlier that day for not enrolling my kids in more after-school activities.
Are we both wrong? Is one of us a good parent, and the other bad? We were in exactly opposite situations and our feelings about it were the same. It’s been helpful to stop comparing and start trusting ourselves to know and have faith in what we’ve decided family looks like.
There are many wonderful ways to do family, but they aren’t all for us. Some we can appreciate from a distance, others we can embrace and adapt. Things like thankfulness at the end of the day, training the children to make us a cup of tea in the morning, starting the day thinking about others – these are all things we’ve taken on board from family and friends.
We’ve also adopted F.H.B., which stands for ‘Family Holds Back’ (an acronym we liked from yet another family) – for when we’ve got visitors and everyone’s grabbing at the bowl of chips! Naturally, these are all ‘works in progress’ being added to our family style.
So I challenge you to be open to new ideas and to see what works or resonates with you, and adapt it to suit your family. Live in community and support and encourage each other. We are constantly changing things to fit our style of family and I feel a great sense of freedom in not having to get it right, or be right all the time.
Taking hold of the ever-changing season of ‘family-ness’ has allowed us room to grow and try things out. This week we’re going to have a go at writing a family motto – to help define just what our family is all about.
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