Growing up, I never had the parents that you could play off of each other. Their unity galled me. It was as if they had constructed a solid barrier that no amount of planning, rehearsing, plotting or scheming could get around. They never, ever worked against each other. There must have been times when they disagreed on parental decisions but they never betrayed a hint of it to us. Their united front was on constant display and it drove my brother, sister and I crazy. It was tremendously effective parenting and it sucked.
Now, my parents are retired and they're loving the grandparent gig. They recently called after having spent a week in Florida with my brother and his family. Since we live so far apart, I don’t see my brother’s family as much as I would like.
I live through my parent’s stories and love to hear how my young niece and nephews are changing and becoming their own people. Mom told me about their time in Miami and filled me full of stories of the happy chaos that comes along with little ones. It sounded very similar to our house.
There is a deeper truth, though. I sometimes forget how different my brother and I are. He is extremely stoic; he went to West Point for a time but left and immediately joined ROTC at his new college. He has been in the Army ever since and is now a Lieutenant Colonel. He and his family are also very active and conservative Evangelical Christians. They attend mega-churches and their kids aren’t allowed to read Harry Potter books or participate in Halloween.
I’m about as different as the day is long. In college, when my brother was wearing his ROTC uniform, I was protesting the ROTC because of its stance on gays at the time. I worked for a feminist newspaper, went vegan and the only uniform I ever wore was Doc Martens, phat pants and a band t-shirt. Now, my family fits many of the Seattle stereotypes. We have an Obama sticker on our car. When my oldest son tells me he wants to marry his best friend (also a boy) I nod and smile and say, “That sounds nice, buddy!” At our election party in 2008, we gave a prize to the person voted Most Likely to Move to Canada if McCain Wins.
There’s also a younger sister in the mix. She shares some of the same political beliefs that I do but nothing as fervent. You couldn’t find many other similarities, though. She and her husband love R&B and clubbing, they both look constantly fantastic and keep most of their political views under their hat. She worked for several years in retail and fashion. She is gorgeous, always impeccably dressed and only wears flats if she’s going between the living room and bathroom.
This was going to be a story about how my parents managed to raise such independent and different kids. But, honest to God, I have no idea. Frankly, I think they’re as surprised as we are. I realize that isn’t what really gets me. What really gets me, especially now that I am a parent, is the way that they never betray the slightest hint of disrespect or condescension to any of us. When they visit, I feel nothing but respect from them and I believe that they support our decisions, beliefs and family values without question. I can guarantee you that my brother and sister would say the same thing.
It dawned on me today that it’s the same united front that used to drive me crazy back in the day. There is zero gossip or contempt. Thank God everyone in the family can make jokes about each of our quirky habits because otherwise it would be downright creepy. But I think their years of showing respect for each other prepared them to deal with the three of us and our amazingly different lives. It is tremendously effective parenting and, it is only now that I realize, it is awesome.
Stephanie Olson is a mom of two boys who lives and writes in Seattle, dreams of Paris and believes that there’s nothing in life that a little tater tot hot dish couldn’t fix.