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My Parents, His Parents, Us Parents

As parents, as husband and wife, the Mr. and I don’t always agree (shocker, I know). We try to be on the same page as we approach our children, and we think that we have the same goals and priorities for our kids, but the reality is that we are two different people who were raised by two very different sets of parents, who are then coming together to try to work as team. Teamwork is great, but sometimes you have to realize that not all members of the team are coming to the game with the same playbook learned.

We have been married now for over ten years, and I have always known that they way the Mr. and I were raised has a good deal to do with how we approach marriage and children. But I was really surprised that our differences, might possibly be a universal American class difference. The other night the Mr. shared a bit of a book he has been reading with me. Outliers (by Malcolm Gladwell) is not really a parenting book. But it is a book about extremely successful people and how the combination of talent, passion, hard work, and opportunities combine to create greatness. But, the part that the Mr. chose to share with me did have to do with parenting styles and how that relates to the opportunities that children have to find success and possible greatness.

The two parenting styles Gladwell describes, based on a study by Annette Lareau, are “concerted cultivation” and “accomplishment of natural growth.” The first is what typical middle- and upper-class parents do: make sure kids adhere to a constant schedule of learning and activities like piano lessons, football practice, summer camp, and tutoring. Lower- or working-class parents tend, instead, to let children occupy themselves, spending their time playing with each other, watching TV, and being generally independent.

I tend not to see much of a class difference in the Mr. and me. We were both raised in two-parent homes. We were both comfortable. Education was a priority. Both of our moms were home with us, most of the time. I would consider both of our families to be solidly in the middle class. However, there was/is a difference in that we were probably on opposite extremes in the spectrum of middle class. His family, his dad a delivery driver, was a more blue-collar, working class family. And my family, with my dad as an engineer, was on the other end of the middle class, the professional, the white-collar middle class. And until the Mr. read to me from the book, I did not realize that the section of the middle class spectrum in which we were raised makes a huge difference in how we approach raising our children.

I was raised taking music lessons, participating in scouts, sports, summer camps, art classes, summer enrichment classes, basically anything that we had the time and money for. The Mr., on the other hand, was mostly taught to make his own fun. And he spent the great majority of his childhood making up games with the neighborhood children or his cousins. He did sports, but it wasn’t the three sports at a time, like I sometimes managed. Nor was it the running from one activity to the next. The Mr. tends to get frustrated with me when I schedule so much for our kids. I think it is what I should be doing for our kids, to give them the most opportunities possible. He thinks I spoiled our daughter by sending her to camp in the summer. I remember camp as one of the favorite activities of my summers. He doesn’t tend to have much sympathy with me when I come home tired from driving the kids from place to place, because he does not see the same value in these activities as I do.

As with any difference, there is probably no right or wrong parenting style. Gladwell mentioned that the “concerted cultivation” gives kids opportunities to find a place to be successful and creates kids that feel a sense of entitlement. On the other hand, “natural growth” allows children to learn to be independent and possibly creative as they find ways to make use of their time. This is not a great revelation to me. And I can see the pluses and minuses on each side. What was a revelation was that it was as much of a “class” difference as it was a parenting difference. And this difference affects a lot of the struggles that we encounter as marriage partners and parents. Our goals for our children do not necessarily include greatness, but we do want them to find happiness and peace with the successes that they find in life. There is probably a balance between the two styles that the Mr. and I come to the table with. The question is then, how can we take this knowledge and use it to work together as a team as we carry on parenting our kids?

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