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Parenting Lesson from My Anti-Mainstream Mom

My late mom’s laissez-faires parenting might be unconventional, but it helped me grew into my own and made us bestfriends for life—which is more than most parents can ask for.

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  • July 6, 2022
  • 10 min read
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Parenting Lesson from My Anti-Mainstream Mom

I was watching the K-drama Fight for My Way the other night and a line one of the main characters says to his girlfriend lingered on for quite some time. In the drama, as Ko Dong-Man tries to talk his girlfriend into making the best choice for her career, he assures her that she should choose the one that she is most passionate about, not the safe “mainstream” option that everyone else strives for. 

“Mainstream is where you are right now,” he tells her. In other words, the path we are walking on is the right place to be even if most people aren’t on it. 

 

 

Ever since I was a kid, I was never in the “normal kid” box – far away from it. I didn’t like the things most kids like. I didn’t like playing outside or with friends my age. I didn’t like running around, jumping, or climbing things. I liked being inside my home playing by myself with my imaginary friends, or watching TV, or making up stories in my drawing book. Later, after I could read and write, I would read all the time and then write my own stories in my notebook with my unreadable scribbly handwriting that my elementary school teacher hated. 

I got away with being an odd kid because my mom never saw me as odd. Even as other people including my big sister would point out to her the things I could not (or would not) do as a child, she would just shrug it off and say I didn’t need to do those things if I didn’t want to. 

“Mama, my sister cannot jump!” My sister told her when she saw that I just could not seem to lift my body up in the air like every other kid my age in the playgroup. 

My mom shrugged and said, “She doesn’t need to if she doesn’t want to.”

Read Also: Parenting Yourself When Your Own Parents Dont

And that was how I was raised. I was raised without any expectation of being like my peers. As a result, I have never really had friends or people who are like me. Even now, I have friends my age and I am much better at socializing than I did as a kid, but I still do not really have someone who is similar to me because I have my own standard, my own world, my own preference, my own style, and my own mindset that are just entirely my own and not really adhering to the world around me. 

My mom raised me to have a mind of my own, but completely by accident. It wasn’t like she read parenting books or subscribed to the Montessori method or anything. She once joked that her parenting style was “sawiyos” or Sundanese for “whatever”. It’s not that I was allowed to just do whatever I wanted, but more that she mostly let me figure things out for myself and make my own decisions (and experience the consequences). She raised me that way not because she was listening to parenting experts, but because she just loved me. She loved having children. 

My mom had many regrets in life but having children was not one of them, she said to me once. She was raised with many expectations and pressures from her own mom that she felt stifled. 

My mom was born in the late 1940s to a humble Indonesian Chinese family. My grandfather worked in factories and my grandmother was a housewife. They weren’t necessarily poor, but her parents were not educated so they demanded their four daughters to do well in school and then to become doctors. My mom never wanted to become doctors and so, she rebelled by going to veterinary school instead, even though she never actually became a practicing vet. It wasn’t that she didn’t like animals. She just didn’t want to be a vet in the first place. 

She didn’t like having to grow up with that kind of expectation and burden laid on her shoulders, so when she had kids, she resolved to raise them without lofty expectations. She wanted her children to grow up knowing that they had choices and they could be whoever and whatever they wanted to be. The only thing she asked of us was that we become good, honest people who wouldn’t intentionally cause harm to others. 

The idea of having the perfect kids never appealed to her, because she was realistic enough to know that there was no such thing. So, it didn’t matter to her what kind of kids she got, she loved us no matter what. My sister was much more “normal” than I was. She was just like any other kid who loved having friends and biking around the neighborhood. She was not afraid of everything and never felt the world was too much for her. She was the more mainstream kid. My mom loved her and loved that about her, but she didn’t try to compare me to her, or ask me to be more like my sister either. She knew I was different, so she let me be different. 

In a way, my mom was like Ko Dong-Man. For her, mainstream is where I happen to be at the time. She didn’t care too much about whether I was going to get good grades when I was in school, she didn’t care what I wanted to major in when I was in college, and she didn’t care what kind of job I wanted to do (or that I could not really work in an office like everyone else my age). She didn’t ask me to settle down, be married, have kids because everyone else my age was doing those things. She let me choose my own life because for her whatever I chose was completely normal and mainstream, because it was where I was at the moment.

I lost my mom to cancer last New Year’s Eve, and even though I’ve said all I needed to say and I am happy with the knowledge that she is at peace now, I still wish I had praised her parenting more when she was alive. Nowadays I can’t help but notice all the parenting tips, theories, teachings floating around all over social media. Even though I get the intention behind it is good, I do wonder if it can add even more pressure to the already tough job of being a parent.

Read Also: We Should Stop Being Afraid For Our Children

I wonder if it will make us compare ourselves to these seemingly perfect moms and make us feel like there’s something wrong with us because we can’t seem to get parenting right. I wonder if it will make other people compare our parenting style with those they see on social media.  I wonder if it will make us anxious about our parenting style. Have we done the right thing? Have we raised our kids well? Should we have done this? Should we have done that? What if the way I raise my kid turns them into traumatized and emotionally crippled adults? 

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with learning about parenting; I fully commend parents who go out of their way to deepen their knowledge so they can better raise their children. It does take a village to raise a child. Our parenting decisions will affect others, and we are also affected by other people’s parenting decisions. But at the end of the day, no matter how knowledgeable we are, how many parenting classes or courses we take, how many books we read, as parents we will make mistakes. We will hurt and yes, even traumatize our children. We will “damage” them in some ways. It’s unavoidable. We’re humans and humans are fallible. 

I’m not a parent, but as someone who was raised by a good parent, I can say with absolute certainty that good parenting boils down to loving your child unconditionally. Without unconditional love, all the theories and knowledge are quite useless. 

If you apply all the parenting tips and techniques, yet you still pressure your child to fit into what society says they should be, then your child will still grow up resenting you. They’ll grow into adults who are restless, unhappy, depressed, all because they never fully develop their own identity. And you may wonder then why you’ve “failed” as a parent or why your child never lives up to your expectations, but the thing is your child is here on earth because of you. It is never their responsibility to become whatever you want them to be. It is your responsibility to raise them into all they’re capable of being even if what they end up becoming looks nothing like you imagine it, even if it’s not “normal” or “mainstream”.  

I know you’re probably thinking, “what does she know? She’s not a parent.” True, I am not and will probably never be. But I was a child who was raised by a wonderful parent. My mom made a lot of mistakes as a parent too, but because I always felt loved and I never had any doubt about it, somehow her mistakes didn’t seem big, or it didn’t seem to matter after I had grown up. 

My mom was my best friend all throughout my adulthood until the day she died. I’d say your parenting is a success when your child can honestly call you their best friend, even after they’re all grown. Love your child unconditionally and the rest will fall into place. If it seems like I’m oversimplifying it, it’s because I probably am. 

My relationship with my mom wasn’t perfect, as she was not the perfect mom, nor was I the perfect daughter. We fought like any mother-daughter would. We said the wrong things to each other, and we sometimes even hurt each other. If you’ve ever seen that TV series Gilmore Girls, then you’d understand. We were like Lorelai and Rory. We loved each other fiercely, but there were many mishaps along the way. 

Despite it all though, at the end of her life I could honestly say that she was the best mom a girl could ask, and that I loved her very much. Isn’t that the end goal of parenting anyway? Not so that they can live out our unfulfilled dreams, or so they would be burdened to take care of us when we are old and senile. I think it is so that at the end of our lives our children can honestly say that we are the best parents they can ask for, and that they love us very much. 


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About Author

Grace Wiroreno

Grace Wiroreno is a writer and the Creative Director of Anima Mea Creative Studio. She started watching her first K-drama in 2021 and now she’s in too deep. She also loves Korean food, Park Seo-Joon, and Seo Ye-Ji. She lives with her wibu brother, her strange neurotic dog, and four mentally ill cats adjacent to Jakarta, and she hates leaving the house except when friends invite her to eat in Cheongdam Garden. Her Instagram account is private but if you’re a non-threatening entity, you can request to follow her @binkyandthecreatures.

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