When I was growing up, I had two mums: the one who gave me birth and the one who brought me up (my grandma). Although we lived in the same household, their parenting style could not have been more different.
My grandma had an authoritarian style of parenting. She always knew the best; I was told what to feel or not to feel; she was fiercely protective and was determined to keep me safe even from myself.
Having experienced this style of parenting, my mum opted to be a permissive parent. She was at the other end of the spectrum being super liberal. With her, I could wear whatever I wanted, say what I thought (mostly about grandma) and do as I pleased.
Neither of these approaches was satisfactory. With grandma, I was determined to bring her protective walls down. Her tall walls suffocated me and didn’t suit my sensitive nature. With time, I learnt to manipulate her. I knew exactly what to say to appease her and I got away with more than my mum ever did as a young girl. But interestingly enough, despite mum’s non-existent boundaries, I still pushed them. My sense was she was too busy trying to be my friend, while I was desperate to find the edge of the boundary to feel safe and protected.
Now as a parent, I’m acutely aware of the importance of loving limits. I am somewhat on permissive side of things, as a reaction to grandma’s authoritarian style. From my personal experience though, permissive style of parenting can be equally harmful. Interestingly, I had a more difficult relationship with my mum than my grandma. I interpreted her inability to offer a safe container as abandonment and neglect. It was as if she didn’t care about me. At least with grandma I knew exactly where I stood. The wall was into my face, but at least it was there. Consistently. With mum, I had no idea.
Children test boundaries no matter how close or far they set, how strict or fluid they are.
Consciously choosing the middle way is the way to go. It’s hard without having a healthy parenting model. If I do it intuitively, I seem to steer to the middle by avoiding those extremes. It’s a broad spectrum though… Reflecting, reading, talking and writing about this issue pretty much every day is making the process clearer and more conscious.