Thursday, March 15, 2012

becoming our parents: interview with Suzi

Today's interview is with Suzi Leigh, a blogger and lactation counselor who helped me in the first difficult weeks of learning to breastfeed (did anyone else think it felt like being cut by tiny pieces of glass?). She and her husband Tim are also starting a blog together called Traditional Nerdist Upbringing, but they've gotten a little sidetracked after finding out a happy surprise: they're expecting baby #2! You can also catch Suzi over on Pinterest where she finds the most amazing recipes despite being bowled over by horrendous morning sickness. Read on to learn more about choosing to have biological children after growing up as an adopted child...


When my mother was in her early twenties, she discovered she was unable to have children because of malignant ovarian cysts which caused her to need a full hysterectomy.  Because she knew that she always wanted children, my parents adopted my brother, and then myself, 6 1/2 years later.  Until the age of 21 I lived in the same house, where my parents currently live.  Both sets of grandparents always lived close by, and since my mother had chosen to stay home with us, we always had her there with us.  There were definitely pros and cons to having my mother always home, the cons mainly occurring when I discovered my autonomy as a teenager and didn't want my mom around too much ;)  But now as an adult and as a parent myself, I appreciate her decision to put off a career outside of the home to ensure that we were always with our family.

How old were your parents when you were born? How old were you when you had your first child? Was your decision about when to have kids affected in any way by your parents' choices?

My parents were 35 when they adopted me, which was not a conscious choice on their part but a result of the adoption agency favoring first-time parents and parents who were not picky about gender.  Since they had my brother and knew that they wanted a girl for their second child, it took a few years for them to find me, or I suppose, for me to find them.

As a teenager, I really wanted to have children at a much younger age, I believe I thought 23 was the "perfect" age to start a family.  (I ended up getting married at 23 and was in NO way ready for a child at that point!)  I always wanted to be a younger mother than my mom was, though I never see any indication that my parents are slowing down or losing energy, at least not at this time.

What are your plans (if any) about the number of children you hope to have? Is your decision about how many children you'll have affected in any way by your parents' choices?

I grew up in a very traditional family with one boy and one girl, though growing up I vacillated between wanting only boys or only girls, or no kids at all.  I think I always felt like 2 was a good number, it seemed to make sense to me since I grew up with one sibling and most kids I knew only had 1 sibling as well.  Now that I'm a parent, I don't seem to be able to make up my mind.  We are currently expecting our second, after having a son 2 1/2 years ago, and in thinking about my family at this time, I feel like I am set with 2.  However, if this one turns out to be another boy, I may just change my mind in the hopes of trying for a girl.  :)

How does the place where you grew up impact your own decision-making about where to raise your family?

I grew up in the suburbs, in a pretty standard middle class neighborhood.  I always felt safe as a child, and never thought I was missing out on anything.  Now as an adult, I want to raise my kids in an area that has more access to art and culture, and is more representative of the style of living that I have learned to be mine.  If I had my way, I would live somewhere like Portland, with its abundant farmers markets and people on bicycles.  At this point, we are looking to live somewhere that is affordable, and not too terribly far away from our family, as I am realizing how important it is for my son to have them in his life.  I think we are looking for a happy medium between white middle-class suburbia and a hippie commune ;)

How does your role as a disciplinarian reflect on your own upbringing?

My parents grew up in the 50s, and so in terms of discipline, there was no question of spanking us when we were not obedient or putting soap in our mouths when we talked back.  I resisted this form of punishment more than my brother, who would simply learn the lesson (or at least not attempt whatever he attempted again) and move on.  I was a challenge to my parents' way of disciplining us, and constantly tried to push back.  When I learned I was pregnant with my son, I read "The Baby Book" by Dr William and Martha Sears, and within the first few pages, what they said really hit me.  They spoke of a gentle way to parent that focused on attention and helping your children feel secure.  This was unlike what I experienced as a child, and I thought it sounded so natural and beautiful.  Flash forward 2 1/2 years, and my natural parenting instincts have been called into question numerous times.  I am not as calm and gentle as I hoped to be, though I cannot ever bring myself to strike my child.  I have many faults as a mother, as I'm sure most of us can attest to, but if I am comparing my style of parenting to what I grew up with, I still feel that I am more connected to my son than I felt with either of my parents.

Do you have any memories from your childhood of moments when you thought "I'll never be like this as a parent" or "I hope to be just like my mom because..."? 

I never felt that I had any privacy as an adolescent.  My mother would come into my room unannounced at 7am to put laundry away as I was trying to sleep.  I would come home from school and find shirts of mine thrown out (Because they "had stains") or things on my dresser moved, and I would feel like my freedom was gone.  I remember thinking that I would never do this as a parent because I knew how much it hurt having your sense of control taken away.  My son is still a toddler, so I generally still need to barge into his room and put things away, but I do sometimes move his toys that he was just playing with or put something in a place that I like better and think that I'm being just like my mom.  I will be constantly reminding myself to give my kids their space as they get older and need it more so as not to adopt the same habits I grew up with.

Now that you are a parent, do you find yourself acting more like (or less like) your own parents than you anticipated? How so? Are you at peace with the similarities/differences?

I feel that I am generally not as close to my mother's way of parenting than I had expected me to be, though my son is still very young and I could see a shift as he gets older.  I will sometimes catch myself saying things or feeling that I need to put things in order in a way that reminds me of my mom, but I think that I have mostly rebelled against my very traditional upbringing into my own type of parent, which I am incredibly grateful for.

How has becoming a parent changed your relationship with your own parents?

The only area of my life that I am not constantly questioned about or being offered unsolicited advice about is my parenting.  This is the greatest gift my parents could possibly give me.  They have always seemed to coddle me, perhaps because I was the youngest and got married before I graduated college and had a "real" job, but I have always been used to discussions about my decisions which left me feeling like a child again.  My parents have never once offered me parenting advice, nor do they criticize anything I do with my son.  In fact, they praise me and my husband for how well we're raising him and how wonderful and smart our boy is.  This has only made me respect and love my parents more, and has made me finally feel like an adult in their eyes.  My mother and I are much closer now than we were when I was growing up, and for that I am supremely grateful.


Thanks, Suzi! Her breastfeeding blog is on a bit of a hiatus, but I'm excited to follow Suzi and Tim as they plan for little nerd #2. Stop by tomorrow for the last of our interviews with PJ!

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