Sunday, March 5, 2017

A Mother Interviews Her Daughter About Raising Her Own Child

I’ve always been interested in my daughter Mara’s child-raising practices. She has one child, my granddaughter Malia. Mara is much stricter with Malia than I was with Mara, but I'm not complaining because Malia has developed into an incredible young adult (she's 16). In addition, I see (and hear about from my husband) that there's a tremendous amount of affection between Mara and Malia. They're very close.

I thought I’d interview her about raising a child, particularly in Los Angeles.

How is raising a child different from what you expected?

I didn’t expect there to be so much fighting. (Haha. I’m kidding—kind of.) Actually, what I wasn’t expecting was that my child would be so different from me. I knew in concept that kids are their own people, but Malia sometimes feels like she dropped into my lap from another planet. She has had a very distinct personality from birth. She's always had her own wants and her own needs. She started telling me from a very young age—around two or three: “My mind is not your mind!” And those words have pretty much been her anthem ever since.

What’s the best part of raising Malia?

It’s hard to describe. Aside from what a great human she is, from a personal standpoint, she brings out the best and the worst in me. Having to be a parent has been the most wonderful experience, but also incredibly hard. There's the initial physical exhaustion of being sleep deprived and caring for someone who cannot take care of herself. Then as she got older, the mental exhaustion of making sure that I was being strong when she needed—even when it made her unhappy—was in many ways more difficult. And even though sometimes as a parent I have to make decisions or make sacrifices that almost feel as if pieces of myself are being ripped away, I do it for her willingly because that’s how much I love her. Without her, I don’t know if I would have ever known I was capable of giving that kind of love. 

I also love that she has a very strong sense of who she is. She has always fought for what she believes in. She always makes sure to point out that her feelings are valid and important. I feel like that alone means we did something right as parents.

How do you decide what battles to fight and what issues to let slide?

I’m not sure. I don’t think I’m as consistent as I would like to be. I would love to say that it has to do with some sort of scale of morality, but I think it ultimately comes down to this: will my letting her do x, y, or z make her life harder in the long run? If it won’t, then maybe I’ll let her win the battle. If it will, then I stick to my position because ultimately I need to win the war. My main goal is to give her as many tools as possible to be able to live a full and happy life.

How are you raising her different from how we raised you?

You are much nicer people than I am. I’m laughing, but it’s true. You and dad are just very open-hearted, touchy-feely people. I’m more structured and, to me, structure is good. I think I got away with things that ultimately made life more difficult for me as an adult because, looking back, it would have been helpful for me to have learned to cope, when I was younger, with some of the tough things about life.

And I think you and dad did a great job with showing me that you'd support me and be there for me always. You have shown Malia that same love and openness. But for me, I think I didn’t quite realize that the whole world wouldn’t be like that. So with Malia, I want her to know that I am here for her, but also that the world is going to expect her to take care of herself. And on a practical level, I want her to learn that I am going to expect her to take care of herself. I’m not talking about emotional support, but day-to-day problem solving and being responsible.

Do you think it’s harder to raise a child in Los Angeles than in Davis?

I don’t think it’s harder. It’s just very different. Davis was more like growing up in Elementary School for 18 years. Los Angeles is more like growing up in High School. It's bigger. There are more people. It feels more complex. 

There’s also the unique aspect in L.A. that lots of kids work in the entertainment industry. Actor kids are still just regular kids, but their lives are very different because they have real jobs—jobs where sometimes they make more money than most adults. They also have to shoulder the responsibility that working adults do. 

Specifically for Malia and me, because she was regularly working as an actress for a few years in different states and countries, we spent a lot of time together sharing hotel rooms. Because of that experience, I feel as if we know each other better than we would otherwise. I became for her in many ways a single parent, companion, and manager all in one. 

I think the harder thing about raising kids right now—which is applicable no matter where you live—is growing up with social media. I think social media makes adolescence very difficult for kids. Don’t get me wrong, I love social media and I’ve never limited Malia's access to it. But it adds a million more ways to make kids and teenagers feel self-conscious at a time when many of them feel pretty insecure about themselves to begin with.

How has your approach to child raising changed as Malia turned from a young girl to a teenager?

I don’t know that it’s changed that much. I'm not really a baby person. I never treated her the way lots of adults treat kids. I’ve always been very straightforward with her and that can be hard for her. Parenting today seems to be mostly about treating your kids like babies for their whole lives. It’s as if parents don’t want kids to ever find out that life is hard. So it’s frustrating for Malia that I am very realistic with her. I don’t tell her she’s the best at everything. I don’t pretend to like everything she does or touches or says. 

Overall, she understands that it’s a better approach—but it’s hard for her when she sees her friends' parents still doing all their laundry and making their lunches and treating them like toddlers. I haven’t made a school lunch for Malia since the 5th grade and she’s done her own laundry since she was 12. 

She doesn’t hide things from me. She doesn’t have to lie to me about the fact that she’s growing up. She can ask me questions about pretty much anything. She knows that when I give her a compliment it's because I mean it. And she knows that I am her parent first—above everything. I’m not her best friend, and I’m not just her gate-keeper. I’m sure I have made a lot of mistakes. I’m looking forward to the time we can laugh about how much we fought when she was teenager.

Mara and Malia


  1. The whole time I read this, I projected myself (and husband) and son into the conversation. We just asked this question this morning at breakfast with another empty nester friend: how will our kids characterize their childhoods and our parenting a couple decades down the line? How will they raise their kids?

    I am so comfortable and certain about how we chose to raise our kiddo... and ... it sounds a lot like Toni and Tony's style. I hear what you're saying, Mara, how perhaps you'd have appreciated greater structure and at the same time a less coddled environment so you could be encouraged to grow up stronger. This is one of the biggest questions I have as a parent.

    Fascinating column.

    1. Thank you so much Kari! Yes, it's definitely interesting think about different parenting styles and how they evolve. I also always try to keep in mind that some parenting choices are probably a reflection of the kids themselves--that we don't make parenting decisions in a vacuum. Kids are so different. What makes sense to me with Malia wouldn't make sense for other kids. I know I've asked my parents about different scenarios or how they may have parented if I had been more rebellious or gotten into trouble more, and they always answer that they don't know because that's not how I was. As with most of life there's not only one right way to do anything! --M