If you had asked me several years back if my mom and I would ever become best friends, I would have laughed. From the moment I could speak, it seemed like we were butting heads. As I grew, my more progressive attitude often clashed with my family’s conservative values. But now we’re closer than ever. What changed? I learned the importance of discussing tough topics with my parents and not shying away from those difficult conversations with my own children.
My Relationship With My Mother Growing Up
I was adopted from Colombia at about 5 months old into a white immigrant American family. They taught me that “love doesn’t see color.” But growing up as a mixed-race Latina in the center of the suburbs, I realized colorblindness couldn’t protect me outside of my family’s home. When I first started to experience prejudice, I tried talking to my parents about racism and white privilege only to be caught in a whirlwind of arguments as they vehemently denied what I was experiencing.
It wasn’t until college, where I started to experience other cultures, that I slowly realized my perspectives differed so much from my parents because we experienced the world in two very different ways. They were able to believe color didn’t matter because to them, it didn’t. They loved me as their daughter unconditionally, and they simply could not understand why anyone else would treat me differently.
I slowly realized my perspectives differed so much from my parents because we experienced the world in two very different ways.
During college break, I would go home and have long, difficult discussions with my mother as I tried to not only understand her opinions but to also fully realize my own. On more than one occasion, our conversations would grow heated, particularly in the past few years as the Black Lives Matter movement was picked up more and more in the news. While sometimes, I felt like it would just be better for us all if I didn’t start these difficult conversations, I knew in my heart that they were important. As a mixed-race woman, I needed to learn not only how to stand firm in my beliefs but to also be able to advocate for my mixed-race children as they grow up.
My Relationship With My Mother Now
The conversations and moments I have had with my parents have helped improve my parenting. I am more aware of my own biases and hang-ups as I raise my children. Here are a few more ways having tough adult conversations with my mom has improved my parenting.
1. I’ve learned to take advantage of resources my parents didn’t have.
We live in an age where information is available to us from a few swipes of our fingers. It has its definite perks when my 5-year-old and 4-year-old are hounding me with their pressing dinosaur inquiries or simply want to watch a cartoon, but I’m also able to use online resources to seek out new ways to talk to my children about things that I may have never even expected to.
Just a few weeks ago, my youngest son was asking about body parts and gender, a subject I never would have thought to question as a child. His innocent question of “do all boys have penises?” left me in a tailspin of nerves, wondering how to answer him correctly. Luckily, due to my experience with my parents growing up and the conversations we had as adults, I was able to step back and tell him that I needed a little more time before answering. I did not want to make the same mistakes that my parents did with passing down black-and-white answers that often left me with more questions than I had before. Just having the ability to pause, gather more information, and discuss something later was something I know would have helped my parents tremendously when I was growing up.
2. I’ve learned that in healthy relationships, it’s important to compromise.
Growing up in a strict Italian-American household, I was taught from a young age that women had to give constantly to our spouses and children. I watched my mother come close to her breaking point more than once, and when I questioned her about her need to be the perfect housewife, we would fight. It wasn’t until I was married and in my own home raising my children that I better understood the struggles she faced.
I asked if she loved taking care of people, and she explained why. And for the first time, I was starting to understand her as I learned not only to appreciate my preferences but to respect hers as well. She found joy in making those around her happy. I was able to understand why she chose to be so hands-on all the time, but more importantly, I realized I shouldn’t have judged her so harshly.
So now, as I parent my two boys, I make sure to save space for their desires and needs. While I may never understand the need to dissect bugs and play hours of video games, I’ve learned from my conversations with my parents that it’s important to incorporate things that bring them joy even if I don’t personally understand.
3. I’ve learned to make space for big conversations while understanding that people will not always change.
Sometimes, my mother and I still have to agree to disagree. And while certain things are non-negotiables for me—like racism—I’ve learned that it is OK to walk away from arguments that are not going anywhere. Even though my children are still quite young, I definitely feel more prepared for the teenage years and tougher conversations after having gone through round after round with my mom.
And what I’ve learned, most importantly, is that love is oftentimes strong enough to stand up to many obstacles. So while there was a steep learning curve for us, our relationship is so much stronger than it was before and I know my children are benefiting from it as well.