My Upside Down Life: The Joys and Struggles of Living with Mom and Dad
By Cynthia Miranda
Issue 120, September/October 2003
I was in yoga class, practicing the Salamba Sirsasana, or headstand. The teacher was explaining that one of the benefits of this asana is that it gives you a different perspective. It turns your world upside down and helps you deal with any challenge in your life. As I relaxed into this asana, I reflected on how this last year has been one long sirsasana . . .
During the time I was pregnant with my daughter, Jade, I was promoted to the position of manager at the yoga studio where I worked. I continued working that first year after Jade's birth, and it was relatively easy; I was able to sling her and still do my job. But when Jade turned one, she demanded more of my attention, and I was split between being a mom and being a manager. I was becoming very stressed, and it severely affected my health. Because I was worried about unfinished work, I couldn't sleep, my stomach was upset, I had monthly colds and flu, and I couldn't give my husband and daughter the attention they deserved. After three months of debating my situation, I gave notice. I don't like to say "No" or "I can't," but this situation was just not good for my daughter or for me. However, quitting my job also meant that we could no longer afford rent. So my husband, my daughter, and I moved in with my parents.
The Plan was to stay with my parents for a year. During that time, I would start my own company, Mundo Azul, providing guided hikes for moms and babies in San Diego. We would decide whether we wanted to stay in San Diego or move to Costa Rica, where we hoped to live a slower, simpler life. We would also pay down our school loans and save money for a house. One year-to make up our minds and make some progress. But the cornerstone of our decision was that I would be able to stay at home with Jade.
Challenges and Acceptance
It's been a year now since I moved back into my parents' home, this time with a family of my own. It has changed everything. Our differences have been exposed and evaluated, my parenting choices questioned, my personal confidence improved, and new understandings established.
My relationship with my parents has always been positive. My mother and father are Hispanic. My mom is liberal, spiritual (she believes in every religion), nurturing, and sincere. She loves to love, and is always ready with a joke. My mother understands the importance of me being home with Jade-she stayed home with my sisters and me. She also values breastfeeding and holistic healing.
My father is the exact opposite, and it is with him that I have always had the biggest challenges. He is loyal and dependable, with a strong work ethic-he has had the same job for over 30 years. He is also conservative, traditionalist, macho, very proud, and stubborn. He believes that he is always right, that there could be no alternative method to his own-even for something as small as loading the dishwasher. But the important things are the toughest to resolve. For example, because I earned a B.S. in Sports Medicine and an M.A. in Education, my father believes I should have a high-paying job. He has had a hard time accepting the fact that I have chosen to stay home with my daughter. We have never been able to understand our differences, and we've had our sore subjects, though they'd always stayed on the surface until now. But while my father has always been the last person to stand behind any decision of mine, he is always the first to congratulate me.
During the past year, my relationship with my father has evolved. We have a lot of time together in the afternoon and on the weekends-opportunities to listen to each other. Sometimes when I think he isn't listening to me, I realize that he is. Instead of brushing each other off or walking out of the room angry, we laugh with each other. Now, we both realize the silliness of arguing. My father has changed over the years, and I am privileged to see these changes. He is more tolerant, and more willing to give me a hug-something he didn't do when I was a teenager. At times, his love is so strong that I feel if the hug were any longer, we wouldn't ever let go. I, too, have changed; I'm more confident and mature. And because my daughter notices every interaction, it is up to me to model good behavior. I want her to see that it is okay to have an argument, but that there is also reconciliation. She has helped my relationship with my father grow.
My relationship with my husband has been tested. We went from a two-bedroom apartment to a single bedroom. The only space we can call our own is our room and our refrigerator, and the only space my husband can claim is the space on his dresser and the gym in the garage. He has had a tough time with all this change-not just living with my parents and the lack of personal space, but our lack of money as well. His feelings are sometimes mixed: he is happy that his daughter is with me, but sometimes he feels that I should go to work, "like all the other moms." I have had to explain to him why I made the decision to quit my job, and the benefits my daughter is receiving. I have had to point out what many non-mothers don't realize: We mothers don't get paid for what we do. It is obvious, I know, but when you think about all the work we do and the benefits for the children, and in light of the high cost of living, mothers should be paid or compensated in some way.
The hardest challenge is explaining the situation to other family members, friends, and strangers. When people hear that we're living with my parents, I can hear their thoughts of disappointment or hesitation. "We are unable to pay rent without a second income," I explain. "I've decided not to work in order to stay home with my child. This is important to me." No response. Having to be okay anyway, without their approval, has been a growing experience for me as an individual, a mother, and a woman. Staying with my daughter has been the one thing I have really had to stand up for. I want people to say, "It's amazing that you gave up everything to be with your child. That is a noble thing to do." But that is what I tell myself now.
¡A Comer! (Let's eat!)
In our Hispanic culture, food is very much a subculture and way of life. It is a time to share stories and talk and share a glass of wine. And, because my parents and husband are away at work all day, it is a time to catch up. My husband and I don't eat red meat or chicken; my parents, who do, call us "vegetarians." My daughter is not a "vegetarian." We let her sample different flavors, and she eats meat, which she loves. The meals I prepare are truly vegetarian-from scratch and usually organic. My parents have been very positive about my meals, and I am very proud of my father, who has been trying dishes laced with tofu or tempeh.
However, my parents don't understand the concept of organic or whole foods. They believe everything from the ground is organic. Given the choice between organic and regular cheese, they pick the regular-"It's got the good stuff." Often there will be two kinds of butter, cheese, and sour cream on the table. My husband and I think they're crazy, and vice versa. When I make a yummy dessert, my mother will tell me kindly, "It tastes . . . healthy."
Our differences in eating habits are so strong that we have bought our own refrigerator, which we keep in the garage. We tried to share my parents' refrigerator, but that didn't last long-my husband and I buy different foods and store them differently. When we make a meal, we store it and eat it that week. My parents, on the other hand, will make a science project out of leftovers. During one family gathering, my dad stored some red meat in our refrigerator. That was the last time he did that-the meat dripped blood onto my vegetables!
The dynamics at dinner are a circus. My daughter usually sits between my mother and me, with my husband and my father at the ends. She closely watches everything everyone does. When we say "Cheers," she raises her glass. From my parents and me, Jade is learning the many uses of bread. We use it to get every last bit of juicy flavor from the plate. She is learning fast.
As our bellies slowly fill, the conversations start, and it's not long before there is a heated debate about television, immunization, breastfeeding at two years, cosleeping, organic foods, or no spanking. We also talk about world politics, religion, money, and changes in job loyalty. Being from different generations, it is wonderful to understand one another's differences and perspectives. We are more willing to listen to each other talk and help each other understand opinions we don't share. Our debates/conversations are nurturing for all of us. They have helped me to clarify my thoughts and ideas, to explain some of my parenting choices and what they mean to me. And they have helped my parents to see me, their youngest daughter, with a child of her own, doing things completely differently, and to simply respect that.
The television is an ongoing debate. We didn't have a TV in our old apartment, and when we moved in with my parents, my father had a TV in every room and a very large one in the family room. We politely insisted that we leave the TV off during dinner, and they agreed to that. But everything started to change when my mom introduced Jade to movies. I was very adamant that Jade not watch any movies-they were taboo. Months passed, and my mother asked if Jade could watch a sing-along video with her. I allowed ten minutes only. But as much as I didn't want to admit it, Jade enjoyed the video, and was happily singing and dancing along with the movie. Before I knew it, my daughter learned that she could watch movies with my mother, and ten minutes turned into half an hour. Sirsasana. My life and ideas are turning upside. I need to breathe and let go.
My initial decision was being challenged, but I wanted to make a conscious decision. I stopped and looked at what was really happening when my mom and Jade watched TV. My mom is Jade's source of indulgence for everything (I rarely allow Jade to indulge), and there was more going on than Jade just sitting passively in front of the television. My mom was introducing her to the fine art of relaxing. (I know-television isn't the only source of relaxation.) She shows Jade ways to have fun and be a little naughty. Isn't that what grandparents love to do? My mom believes you should learn to respect all things, good and bad, but not abuse anything. So as they watch a movie, my mom makes my daughter a cozy bed. She props Jade up with lots of pillows, they curl up in the blankets, and they watch an old classic film (e.g., a Shirley Temple movie or The Sound of Music). My mom makes the movie interactive for Jade-they talk and sing together. I don't know who enjoys it more, my mom or my daughter.
Still, TV is TV. My husband and I decided on "firm" guidelines: two specific days of TV, on which Jade can pick a movie. I am comfortable with my decision because I wanted to limit Jade's television time; however, a special relationship was developing between my mom and her granddaughter, and I wanted to acknowledge that-another of my decisions that has been challenged by living with my parents. One decision that I have not budged from is Jade's diet. My family doesn't understand the dangers of eating sugar and refined candy at an early age. I let Jade sample a variety of foods, but limit the amount of refined sugars and processed foods. They suggest that I should give her milk instead of "momma milk," even suggesting chocolate milk for the flavor. At Jade's second birthday party, my father rolled his eyes when he saw that I'd filled the piñata with toys and sugar-free lollipops. Since Jade's birth, I have seen many instances where sugar and chocolate were made readily available to her and other children without parental consent. It is a constant battle to keep sweets away from Jade without making her feel different or out of place. I am very passionate about the short- and long-term negative effects sugar has on a child's body. I liken it to a drug, but children love it. In social situations, I see the same children eating candy; I can see habits quickly beginning to form. My parents are beginning to comprehend, but fail to understand the significance.
Staying at Home
One of the most difficult asanas for me is the Pigeon (Pada Raja Kapotasana), in which you fold one leg under your body to open your hip. Sometimes I struggle so much it is hard to breathe. I have been practicing this asana for years, and recently I was able to relax into King Pigeon. I realized that when I am experiencing extreme challenges, it is best to relax and go with the feeling. There is so much more to learn when I stop resisting.
The benefits of living with my parents have been wonderful. I am grateful to stay at home with Jade, and that my parents have welcomed us into their home. The day-to-day interactions and experiences are so powerful. Jade observes and absorbs everything, and I am glad that we can provide a nourishing environment. We have weekly visits to see my sister and her five children, my other sister and her newborn, and my grandmother. Each day, Jade helps me clean the house and wash clothes, cook, set the table, and make the bed. We read, color, and paint. We swing and play in the sandbox. We visit the zoo or go to the beach, hike or go to the pool.
There are constant, beautiful dynamics for Jade to experience, especially between her and my parents. She also sees her father interact with my parents, my parents interact with each other, and my own relationship with my parents. She is lovable, confident, happy, funny, talkative, and very active. She kisses us, and we tell her how much we love her. She adores her grandparents. My parents and I speak Spanish with her, and my mom loves to dance and sing with her. She has four grownups helping her and sharing new ideas with her. And did I mention babysitting? My mother takes care of Jade while I am cooking, or when my husband and I want to spend some time alone together. I believe we will see benefits for years to come.
It has been more than a year since we moved in with my parents-a very full year. We went to Costa Rica with Jade and had eye-opening experiences. Jade learned to swim, and she was potty-trained. We realized that San Diego was truly our home, and that we had a lot to be grateful for: family, job opportunities, friends, and beautiful weather. We bought a condominium, and moved in in March. I got a part-time evening job as a Fitness Specialist at Nokia. This helps our income, and my daughter is able to be with her father at nights. I am still in the process of putting my business together, and it continues to evolve as I evolve, even if a task that took me one day before I was a mom now takes a week or two.
But more than accomplishing our goals, I have learned some important lessons:
o Don't wish for others' wealth: sometimes they lack time or peace.
o Save for education: it is so much more expensive when you repay.
o Never judge someone else's choices or lifestyle. You can't possibly know what it is like until you get to know the person.
o I am richer than I know-I have time and my family to enjoy.
o Get to know your family: there is so much to learn from each other.
It is easier now to talk with family and friends about our recent situation. Having lived with my parents for a year, I am able to point out benefits that they have not considered. I also realize that I have a lot more time with Jade and my husband each day, and that there is always time for us to exercise. Whether it is mountain biking or yoga, my exercise gives me a chance to breathe and reflect, and that is so important. I may be poor, but I am full of riches.
Cynthia Miranda, a stay-at-home mom, lives in San Diego with her daughter, Jade (2), and her husband, Dario Miranda. She has started her own company, and now shares her knowledge and passion through Mundo Azul. To see where she is now, visit www.mundoazul.com.
Photo supplied by the author.