I had an incredible conversation today with my Mother-in-Law. Now, on the record, she’s “Mom”. I’m drawing distinction in her title because I think it makes the rest of what follows that much more powerful. I love my Mumma. She’s a world-changing human for me. A function of her being the “everything” woman in my life until I met my wife. (Note: Sisters play a different role, I’ve already written about that).
But calling out the “Mother-in-Law” is important here. Because she plays a bridge role. She’s a Mom, but she’s not my original mom. So I get that POV without that legacy or honestly, that baggage. I get all that love, but she also acquired me as a “son” when I was pretty much fully baked (30 lbs overweight, all my edges formed) vs my mom who acquired me as an idea, no edges just hope and potential.
It’s fascinating. I’ll write about that later (maybe Mother’s Day); but today, I want to talk about the talk we had today.
We were chatting about parenting. Seated in a couch facilitated triangle, fairly equilateral; with Priya at one vertex, Mom C at another and me at the third. I’m not sure what sparked it, but at some point … perhaps because my mind is racing with thoughts on how to keep making this course at Rutgers better … something took off for me and I can’t shake it.
We were talking to my MIL (aka GOAT MIL) about her POV on her generation and their kids. It was powerful. She was talking about the things on her mind, and on the mind of her friends, about their kids — who just so happened to be me, my wife, and our peers.
The conversation took a powerful turn when we were talking about our kids and I asked her, point blank, what she thought of our parenting. Obviously, she thinks we’re doing a great job but it took a while to get to the moments where she thought we were over-parenting or could do better. She’s one of the few people for whom criticism isn’t a natural instinct. But we got it out of her.
Sometimes she wished we weren’t so tough or, that we let things go. And in digging deeper, we learned that was because there were times as she reflects back on her children, that she wished she had let more things go.
I had a Black Mirror moment. I felt my consciousness skip. My vision distort. And I saw two conversations playing out at the same time.
The way we got to that conversation created an opening for me to fundamentally evolve as a parent … especially with her help.
Let me explain.
In one channel, was the conversation my MIL was having with their friends. Which was very much a “why doesn’t ‘x’ generation listen to ‘y’ advice, we’re doing it for the very incredible and inarguable ‘z’ reason?”
In the other channel, was the conversation I had with my kids ALL F*CKING DAY today. Which was very much “do x” because otherwise “y’ completely and avoidable BULLSH*T is going to happen for “z” ABSOLUTELY ABSURD REASON!
That’s a real moment.
But the timing was awesome. Because of the juxtaposition I was able to hit a moment of contrast.
The problem with being a parent is you get a lot of advice, but not a lot of coaching. You get a lot of criticism but not a lot of mentoring.
Let’s get to it: you get a lot of guilt, but not a lot of empathy.
Which made the moment tonight (Merry Christmas!) a lot of eye-opening fun.
“What would you tell me if you were focused on what you would have done differently instead of what you think we’re doing wrong?”
The question was surprising. The conversation was stilted. Partially because I was lost in the question.
I couldn’t shake the discussion.
I want to avoid the details explicitly because what I took away felt most important: as a parent, where’s the coaching?
When my team at work, works through decisions I spend lots of time talking through what to do, avoid, based on their job descriptions and the realities of the world. My success as a leader is contingent upon my ability to synthesize and translate back.
But for a parent? There’s nothing other than pregnancy and delivery.
We don’t get feedback. We have conversations with our peers in the moment which gives us other in the moment POVs. What would happen if our parents, as grandparents of the child, started to think of themselves as coaches. As people who went through this once before and now have the ability to iterate. But also as people with a unique perspective on the origins of our behavior — likely because our behavior is a result of their parenting.
Imagine if … your parents / parents -in – law pulled you aside periodically and instead of saying “stop being so strict” said “hey, what your kid is doing? Well, you did the same thing And what you’re doing in response as a parent? Well, that was what I did to you … but it was wrong. If I had to do it over again? I’d do it this way. I’m sharing this so you know I’m with you, but also, so you can get better and we can evolve the trajectory of our family.”
Literally, let’s make the family tree better.
It’s not a complex topic; but it’s a valid and exciting one.
I can’t stop thinking about it right now. My head is exploding. It creates incredible space for parents and grandparents to discuss grandkids but most importantly … it evolves the family tree.
Happy I had this moment with one of the greatest women I’ve ever met — my MIL. Who has agreed to try this with me starting tomorrow. And wow. Am I excited to have a coach of her caliber guiding me through what’s next.
As parents, we don’t get to spend enough time on what’s next and how to get better. How to evolve. In search of truth. I see this as a narrative altering moment. What if my mom approached me as a coach? As someone who talks to me about her experience and what she hopes for me instead of her needs and what she expects of me?
The elephant in the room is that as parents, you’re experiencing everything for the first time alongside your kids. Maybe with a second child you get to evolve but the truth is, you’re likely just subsisting. In that moment, there’s nothing harder than trying to survive while feeling like you’re being judged.
In the short term, the discussion for me is how do I build a bridge. Between my parents generation and my kids generation. How do I focus on translating — by using the moments where my family is criticizing me to reflect how I am critical of them.
Those are nice thoughts.
Here’s the big one: how do I live knowing I’m doing my best as a parent, and how do I die knowing I left nothing to chance?
The only scenario? To open the door to the most important and informed people providing me with feedback in a way that I’m likely to listen.
Sender > Message > Channel > Receiver
Communication without acknowledgement of that truth isn’t communication. It’s just noise. I want to turn grandparent feedback into more than noise. If we do this, we’ll create a flywheel that’s more powerful than time (because it will be time with context).
Mumma. Mom. Dad. Mamas / Mamis. Masas / Masis. Fais / Fuas. Kakas / Kakis. Uncles / Aunties.
When you see me making a mistake with my kids, lean in. But when you lean in, open up. Talk to me about your experience and what you would have done differently. Not just my experience and what you think I’m doing wrong.
There’s something beautiful there that a blog won’t capture. This was a start.