For a project last semester, I interviewed some friends about their families and parenting style. I really appreciated their help and boy I learned alot! Here is the project in its entirety. :)
For the Parent Interview Project, I made a few assumptions based on what I thought you (the teacher) wanted and what I thought would help me to learn the most. One assumption that I made was that I should try and find 'different' people to interview- different in gender, backgrounds, life experience, number of kids, religion, and sexuality. Another assumption was that I should really take the time to develop three questions that I was genuinely curious in the answers, thought might be helpful for my situation at home, and would also be interesting for this paper and for reading. I have listed the questions farther down in my paper. The last assumption that I made was that as I chose so many different individuals, I would find that the families would have many differences, but also distinct similarities that could easily be 'teased' into looking at the whole group in a similar manner... that was not the case.
I sent out fourteen letters asking for responses and received five back fully filled in and ready for me to study. Out of the five, four are women and one is male. Three have been through at least one divorce and two are currently married to their first and only husband. All five individuals have children in numbers from one to eight, one adult is homosexual, two of these families have at least one child with a severe disability (autism or bi-polar disorder) and one family has an adult with PTSD. The families also live in different environments as the states that can be included are California, Nevada, Maine and Wisconsin- three families live in a semi-rural area and two live in urban areas. The religions that are involved in some of these families- whether through past involvement or current activity- are United Church of Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon), deeply spiritual, and atheist (one member of this group is currently in college studying seminary and divinity). Also, at least three out of the five individuals appear to have grown up in dysfunctional households (one spent some time growing up in a cult, one with alcoholic parents, abuse, etc...) Lastly, one individual is currently single, three are married and one is living with her partner and her children.
When looking at the definition of family, there were many different responses, but a lot of overlapping when the answers were put side by side and compared. One individual describes their 'family' as a large group of related individuals which included younger brothers and their families, cousins and their families as well as other extended biological family ( one quote from the answer- “Curiously, it does not necessarily include my parents or my older brother.”). Two people spoke about family as a small group of people that love and support each other and has nothing to do with blood relationships or shared parentage. These individuals seemed to have a really open view of family in the sense that family can be flexible and made and broken and reformed – a “family of choice”. The last two adults had a more rigid view of family and for them, a family is a social unit connected by blood or marriage or a family is a unit created solely by God for the rearing of children and families that are bonded through marriage, His Gospel, Commandments, and Love. The last individual described a family as having a male and female at the head of the home with rigid gender roles and family assignments as quoted from the “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” as written and distributed by the Mormon church.
Definitions of effective parents and good parental behavior were described with different words by all five individuals, but when reading the responses I felt that all the answer really said the same thing:
1. “The object of parenting is not to raise a perfectly obedient child but rather a responsible and contributing member of society.” “Teach them to think and empathize and not to blindly model other's behavior.”
2. “A parent's job is to help their children become happy, fully developed people. Teaching children things they need to know and help them become independent and fully functional adults and able to make their own decisions.” Parenting behaviors: Setting limits; teaching; providing guidance; encouraging; seeking to understand the child's point of view; caring deeply; and loving unconditionally.
3. “Someone who is together, follows though on what they say and the rules of the home. Stick to your word and have structure in your home. Show unconditionally love and caring.”
4. “Someone who positively teaches a child how to be a functional member of society”
5. “A person who teaches a child empathy, consideration, caring and how to be a good decision maker- even if you do not like the decisions that they make. You raise them to think of themselves and those around them and how to accomplish their goals and fulfill their needs and love them.”
While there were a few statements edited due to lengths of answers, I kept the scope of the answers which show that with a few differences of ideas, the thoughts are the same: to raise happy, healthy people who think for themselves, have a positive outlook for themselves and others and are willing to help others. In a nutshell- to be productive and happy members of the world around them.
Answers about the necessary skills for communication really seemed to vary a great deal, although I think that the question itself may have been misunderstood or interpreted differently due to perception... and I must say that I love the idea of a communication answer being misunderstood! The irony is fairly laughable. One individual suggested an answer in a way that suggested to me that the question was interpreted the same way that I had interpreted it. They felt that openness and honesty were absolutely essential communication skills. Listening well and taking the time to make sure that you truly understood the other person's point of view and perspective -even if you didn't agree with it- is an essential skill for living in and around other people. Two people said that 'Honesty and love are key needs so that children feels secure and can rely and trust others'. Another focuses very 'literally' on the question - “Verbal and physical communication are absolutely essential- technology is not essential even if we and the media think that it is.”. And the last person talked about important times for family communication: 'Dinner is an important time to get together and talk as a family. You should also have one on one interviews with your children and they should learn manners and respecting others'.
The question about whether we are living in turbulent times was pretty illuminating to me and I think on of the most important questions asked. How 'turbulent times' was so defined by the individual sharing with me their thoughts expressed what those words meant to them personally. Some saw them through the lens of religion while another saw it through their lens of current political and economic hardship.
1. “I think a certain segment of every generation is prone to declaring themselves as living in turbulent times. My goal has always been to create a place of dependability and relative calm for my kids within the private functions of our family.”
2. “Yes. The protracted war and the economy have made this a very unsettled time. In a way, it may have brought families more together as they try and cope and support one another.”
3. “Yes. When family values are undermined by social acceptance of divorce, infidelity, violence, abuse, and other negative actions / emotions. These actions tear the underpinnings of the social unit and do not promote healthy conflict resolution and respect toward others. As a consequence the family unit is no longer stable.”
4. “Yes I do. Right now I think kids have it very hard. There are teens out there killing themselves because of being bullied. Kids are starting to have sex in middle school and that never happened when I went to school. The world is a lot different now and we need to raise our kids to be strong in the world because it is not easy.”
5. “Oh, yes. I think that all times have their 'turbulence' in them, but as a society we are angry, hateful, and fearful of all who are different. Since we all have differences, we are feeding off of each other and killing each other- or bullying and killing ourselves. I try to keep as much of it out of my home as I am able.”
It appears that a few interviewees stressed that keeping the 'turbulence' our of their homes was important as well as the idea that this particular 'time' may be turbulent... but other times were as well. One person saw the turbulence as an unwanted consequence towards harming families, while another thought that teaching the children to be strong would help them to deal with the turbulence (expressing the thought that this person does not believe the turbulence will not be going away soon.). And one person talked about how the turbulence could be used to strengthen families as they try and support each other through the 'storm'- really a great way to look at it I thought.
Everyone universally agreed that there were no “good ol' days” - one individual went so far as to say: “ The "good old days" are a fiction. In the past, there was incest, abuse, and child labor, etc... Women were controlled as objects and had few rights. The good old days never existed except in fictionalized memories”. If 'changes' were mentioned, they were mentioned as positives: women have more rights, no such thing as a woman's job or a man's job, women were controlled as objects- no more, and more along those lines. It was also almost universally agreed upon that families have always been complicated and have never been simple or truly “traditional”- families have always been complex depending on the society, that the size and shape of the family doesn't have anything to do with whether they are fully functional and healthy or dysfunctional, and good families are created and do not depend on gender or sexuality. One person thought about families and parents: “Are they making decisions that are in the best interests of the child/family or not? That is the only way to judge.” I think I agree with that statement.
The types or discussions that are held in the home/family varied in minutia- while the individual topics could vary and cover a wide swath (soccer, running, home renovation, animal husbandry, etc), the conversations themselves tend to focus on:
1. “But we talk about what might be going on at school or work, our plans for the future, and otherwise share interests in each others’ lives.”
2. “Activities we can do as a family.”
3. “Often we talk about my son's school and his future. As my son has matured, our discussions have become more wide ranging and adult-like in content.”
4. “We talk about everything and anything. We are a very open family. My kids are very young so things my husband and I don't talk about in front of the kids would be problems with other people but other than that just about everything.”
5. “Things we have in common, want to share, and what is happening in our lives, feelings, thoughts.”
While these answers are all different, they all have the theme of being together, loving each other and understanding and sharing with each other... which I think is a common theme for all humans in groups. We all need to feel like we belong and are appreciated and listened to.
When discussing the stresses involves in parenting and being a parent, I was a little surprised that while these individuals discussed different 'stressors', all the stressors ended up dividing neatly between emotional and physical stresses. However, even the physical stressors became emotional stressors if discussed long enough. Physical stressors discussed were the need to balance everything, to 'do everything', lack of sleep, and 'physically run down by the work involved'. Emotional stressors mentioned were the stress of watching a child struggle or have difficulties, trying to balance the needs of the children and the parent, the stress of watching children fight for their health when they are sick, and the difficulties of watching your children as they try and fail and not stepping in unless truly needed.
Family comparisons was funny... and very enlightening. I did feel like I learned a bit that was new about each person and family that I interviewed based on their responses to this question.
1. "I suppose one of those families of acrobats, where everyone is holding on to each other and balancing on each other and leaning out in different directions. There is a natural give and take, where we try to counter-balance each other and be each other’s safety net."
2. "In my home we are all experimental chefs: We work together and separately and come together often to see what we have created. Sometimes we are very congratulatory, sometimes we are mean and laugh too much, and sometimes we come together to commiserate over culinary experimental disaster. But we will continue to cook together, experiment together and help a cook who is tired of cooking."
3. "My family is like a small pack of wolves. We are independent and solitary, but we understand each other and come together when needed."
4. We don't compare ourselves. "We are a happy family."
5. "I don't really know. We have never compared our family to something. Maybe just a regular American family. We have our ups and downs but in the end we make it. "
There were some very pretty metaphors in there. I really liked the chef comparision- maybe because I love food, I am not the best cook, but I keep trying and sometimes I make something fabulous! (And sometimes....yuck!)
The last three questions are the ones that I needed to make up and ask. The questions that I devised are:
1. If you were able to change just two things about how your family works, what would they be? What would you prefer?
2. If you have been divorced before or are currently in a non traditional family, how has it changed your perspective of family? What changes do you see in how you view family from your childhood to now? Do you feel that your boundaries of what constitutes 'family' have changed over the years?
3. In what ways has your parenting style changed between your first child and your last? Between the 'newness' of first time parenting and now? Between family changes (death, divorce, etc)?
I chose these ideas from my heart and questions that I have been bouncing around in my head for a little bit now. So here are my responses.
The idea of changing something in your family was a pretty neat question. I realized as I interviewee people that this question could really help them to pinpoint something they wanted to change and work on it. If you never ask the question, it is very easy for someone to never try and make a change... because it never becomes very obvious that not only is change needed, but you can make it into smaller steps to work on and doesn't seem so challenging. Two quotes were really poignant to my mind.
1. “I wish there was less nagging involved in getting family members to take their turn at chores, and perhaps a little less questioning of decisions made by others. If I had to pick just one of these, it would be the first – I appreciate the intellectual skills of my family members, but sometimes I would love to skip a debate!”
2. “I would like my sons to really listen more and understand that if they listen to my guidance as their father they will do better in life and have less struggles. I would like to listen more deeply as a parent; to really seek to understand what my children are saying to me and why they think and feel the way they do about things.”
What I really liked about these quotes was that both of them were about communication. Both of these individuals are looking for better communication in their families and they recognize that there is a communication issue. Once it is recognized as a concern, making a plan to try and change it will be much easy. The last quote I am adding was a little sad for me to read.
1. I wish my husband didn't work as much. He works 60+ hours a week and so we don't see him as much as I hope. He will get home, eat dinner with us and we have 1-2 hour to spend time together before we put the boys down for bed. I wish my husband and I could have more time to go out together. We have date night once a week but it is usually at home doing something fun together like renting a movie, playing a game, making smoothies, ect. We can't afford to pay someone to watch our kids so we can go out and we wish we could.
This individual really seems to enjoy her family and wishes that she could have more time with her husband. More time and not less time. I can feel the caring and the wish for more of a physical presence in her home for her husband. I do hope that they will have it sometime!
For the question on divorce and changes in perspectives on family, I got some pretty amazing answers.
1. “I am a child of divorce who has been married for almost 23 years to my first (and last) husband. I feel very blessed and lucky to say that; each of my siblings has experienced at least one divorce, and I have seen the emotional toll taken. The most concerning part of fractured families is the lack of mutual respect often modeled by the parents (and clearly absorbed by the children). While my concept of family has enlarged over the years beyond the “one man, one woman, one marriage” nuclear family of the 60’s, I believe that the most important aspect of family is not gender or birth status but love.”
2. “I was from a broken home and grew up without a father and with an absentee mother, and was raised primarily by my grandmother. I have been divorced. I think that I have always viewed families more by the content of their actions than in a "traditional" way, and I think that this view has been strengthened over time.
3. “Divorce did not change my perspective of family, it reinforced what a functional family is. I.e. the divorce occurred because of dysfunctionality. As to the rest, I will say that I lived in a dysfunctional family growing up and knew that I wanted to create a healthy family. I have done this."
4. “I haven't been in that situation but my grandparents have. What i have observed from that is nothing i would ever want to experience. They have each been married 6-7 times and are in their late 50's. I see how it has effected my mom and wouldn't never like to be in that place. Her mom made her write nasty letters to her dad after the divorce and her and her dad still to this day don't talk. She has step sisters that don't like her. She feels like the outcast.” (sic)
5. Been there, done that...don't think it has changed my perspective except for cynicism. I am more careful now. (sic)
I am not sure that most of these answers actually answered my question, but I thought they were intriguing nonetheless.
The last question as changes in parenting style- I think the weakest question that I developed. However, one person's statement really stayed focus in my mind and is the one statement made throughout these interviews that I have found myself reflecting on quite a bit. It is :
1. “I now am more realistic about my children's potential, and my goals are to raise happy children that are self-sufficient and are the best people they can be. I want them to do whatever they want in life and am more accepting that their way is not my way. I think as you parent your second child, you become less stuck in what you want, and more open to what the child's unique personality and desires might be. Part of this may come from having experience with the first child, but part is from aging yourself. I know that I look at the world very differently at 49 than I did at 29. In a way, I think that I am more realistic, possibly more cynical, and that my expectations for my child, and also myself, have become grounded in reality more. Is that bad? Perhaps, but it is also comforting.”
Two individuals stated that their children came too close together to really be able to see a change in parenting style- one says that she has noticed that she is a lot more relaxed around other people's kids and helping now. One pointed out some physical changes like with her first she would carefully clean and sterilize binkies that fell on the floor- now she wipes them on her pants and pops them right back in! (I thought that was great and I laughed.)
So through this exercise, I think I have discovered quite a few things. While I already knew that people think differently from one another due to experience, etc... I have never taken an opportunity to really learn about these differences. I feel like I know so much about more not only about these individuals and their families, but how they think and view the world. I also found that I learned a little bit more about how I viewed families and the world around me as well. And I was able to open a door to a family member that I had been unsure how to approach due to family trauma and so I think that this assignment helped me to even increase my family a little bit. Thank you.