Saying Good-Bye to Parenting Advice

canstockphoto11601244There is some information that worms its way inside your head and grows, like a lab culture, into self-doubt and judgment. For me, it ranges from blogging advice to how I’m supposed to give a rat’s ass about fashion (that advice dies a quick death, but it’s there). Parenting advice is the absolute worst, though. It made me feel both ineffectual and incompetent, doubting even the most minor lapses.

I commented on someone’s blog post yesterday regarding kids and food. I immediately wanted to delete it, because it felt wrong. Apparently, I was the milder of pompously commenting parents, who were both defensive and right. Any parent worth their salt knows that kids have a way of turning us into know-it-alls or angrily sensitive about our parenting choices (two sides of the insecurity coin, methinks).

When I started out as a parent, I was hungry for advice. I wanted to get it right. I went to classes, I talked enthusiastically with other mothers. I read books. I watched videos. I listened to CDs. I familiarized myself with Ferber, Sears, Faber & Mazlish and the five million other parenting advice gurus.  I researched best methods for potty training and eating and even, I am embarrassed to say, how to play. My daughter had Baby Einstein playing when her biggest interest was waving her fingers in front of her face.

Getting it right had little or nothing to do with my actual child. It was a fear that I would be a bad parent. It was a fear that I would be an inconsistent misery to live with and that my child would be a reflection of that chaos. I put into practice all kinds of advice, 90% of which did nothing but make more work for me and I think, slightly bemuse her. Reward charts, potty celebrations, signing up for classes, reading yet more books and on and on and on.

About three years in, I stopped reading advice books. Incentive systems got tossed out the window. I was too tired. She was growing up in spite of my best efforts to turn her into a baby genius, super athlete and much better version of me. I started to just be amazed and curious about the person she was actually becoming.

Fortunately, once kids get older, people stop offering arbitrary advice. Old ladies stop telling you how all their children were potty-trained straight out of the womb and how a good swat will set the little miscreants right. Other parents learn to bite their tongues – in front of you – but you’re on trial when you’re out of earshot. I’m just as guilty of this – watching from afar and feeling smug that my child doesn’t like Cheetos or eat dirt. Until she does.

The things that I look back on, which were most valuable to our experience as a family, may be utterly different than someone else’s experience and yet our kids will be just as well-adjusted and happy. I ignored a lot of advice in favor of intuition about my child. I slept with her the first year, my arm outstretched above my head to avoid rolling over on her. I gave up trying to potty train her. A mere few months later (it felt like forever), she decided to do it on her own.

We are strict parents in some ways. Manners are always enforced. Fruits and vegetables required. School is first priority. TV watching is limited. But also lax in others. Mud is good. Hair combing is optional. Farts are funny. How she looks is her choice.

I am firmly against corporal punishment. I grew up with it and while many people like to say “I got hit as a kid and I grew up fine”, I didn’t grow up fine. I grew up struggling and fearful. I grew up wishing for nothing more than the power to strike back. She’s never been hit, but has occasionally gotten a retributive face lick or noogie. We’re barbarians.

We don’t insist on the best for her, but she is adept at making the best of every situation. We say no a lot, but are learning to pick our battles.  We admit when we’re wrong and rarely use “because I said so” as a reason.

Parental self-righteousness is shaky at best and in its place, a truism remains strong. Just when you think you’ve got it right, you’ll be wrong. Nothing seems to put people up on their high horses faster than parenting advice. Enjoy your 8 seconds of “I would never…” because you will and then you will completely forget what a judgmental prick you were before you did.

There is no doubt that parenting advice has value when it leads you out of the tall grass. When it is about the best footwear or which path to take or what snacks to take along, sometimes it’s best to ignore advice and just enjoy the journey.

25 Comments

Filed under Parenting, Personal, Uncategorized

25 responses to “Saying Good-Bye to Parenting Advice

  1. fransiweinstein

    I have no children. Therefore no parenting advice will ever pass through my lips. Although I do bite my lip when confronted by an obnoxious child. But I do like to observe parents when they are with other parents. Sometimes you can feel the disapproval with the others’ parenting techniques without a word being spoken. Pursed lips, disdainful expressions, clenching, tensing. I think it just comes with the territory. Every parent thinks they are the best. And maybe they are. For their kid and their circumstances. I only have an opinion on cat rearing :)

    • I think parents need to focus on being okay with their own choices and what their individual child needs – it feels like high school and there are a lot of mean parents in terms of being judgmental. I’ve been there, so I’m no saint in all this. When you really look at a lot of kids, they’re happy and well-adjusted and most importantly, feel loved and valued as human beings. That seems to be the defining factor, not whether they’re in the best school or started violin when they were 4. As for cats, I’m still in the weeds on them. Apparently, they don’t take advice.

  2. klsprout

    Well, you hung in there with the parenting advice books a lot longer than I did! I had given up on them before my first child turned a year old. Poppycock, all of them. They’re equivalent to diet books – hooking us in with our anxiety about ‘getting it right’ and then trying to sell us a plan that will Absolutely! Positively! solve whatever problem we are experiencing. Pffffftttttt. I couldn’t get either of my kids to go ‘by the book’, and I don’t see that as my failure. However, I’m under no illusions as to the excellency of my parenting. There’s a reason the subtitle of my blog is, ‘Doing a Good Enough Job.’
    And you are braver than I, as I will never, ever, put details of my parenting trials or decisions out there on the internet. It’s like peeping your head out of a foxhole – you’re gonna get shot to ribbons.

    • You’re probably right about opening myself up for some head-thumping, but that’s the very reason I wrote the post. “Doing a Good Enough Job” is what all of us should aspire to – parenting is a tough enough task on its own, without the subsequent browbeating by other parents. I am culpable as well. One of the things I realized was that most parents love their children and want to be good parents. Sometimes we’re ill-equipped. Sometimes we’re perpetuating a cycle. Sometimes we’re just overwhelmed. But the intent is rarely malevolent and I think that we need to remember that when judging others’ parenting skills. Plus, kids are very unique and there is simply no one-size-fits-all solution to every problem.

  3. Good for you! I, too, read all the parenting books (although there were a lot fewer of them back in the dark ages!) and disagreed with most of what they said. My kids seemed to have turned out okay and are both wonderful parents. They grew up eating dirt, worms, and whatever else they could find; they shared dog biscuits, dog food, cat food and who knows what with the family pets. I think trying to keep kids in a sterile environment isn’t good for the kids – they don’t have a chance to develop immunities. All of us have to do what we think is best for our kids. :-)

    • It seems like a simple thought, but it finally hit me that most parents do what they think is best for their kids. Whether it is or not, is irrelevant if the child is loved. And most parents love their children and want to do the right thing. What that right thing is may be debatable, but mostly, unless real harm is involved, none of my business. I’m often surprised with the virulence of judgment of parents by other parents.

  4. I bought all those books. I think I read one and decided that it was all crap. I made mistakes, and try not to tell people what to do with their kids. I tell them what worked with my kid, but mostly it’s cause the stories are funny. Is he perfect? God no. Neither am I. Neither are the kids of the folks who underlined, highlighted and made notes in the margins of the baby books.

    Kids grow up. We’re relevant, but I think they are born with their personality and they make the most of it with us and in spite of us!

    • That is absolutely the truth – kids are born with their personality. That was the other thing that I learned – all that advice is general. What works specifically with the child you have is going to be different and each child, even in the same family, is different. It’s important to open your eyes and really see who they are.

  5. Wise words. I think about 33 years ago I gave someone advice and I still regret it. I still cringe at how arrogant it must have sounded. I had no children of my own, but I was a degreed educator (yikes!). Then I had my first child and became the recipient. What an eye opening and humbling experience. Great post.

    • Humbling is a good word for learning how to be a parent! It’s easy to become disheartened until you get a sense of humor about it all. The potty training deal nearly sent me over the edge, until I let go and saw the real training was for me – that my daughter would not be growing up on my schedule! It finally also hit me how much time I’ve wasted trying to be a good parent when sometimes it would be nice to just enjoy being with this little person. As every parent rightly says, it goes by so quickly.

  6. Amen! And you always have to remind yourself and often want to remind other that what you/they see is only a small part of the bigger picture. It is so easy to judge, and be judged. And I so agree with the assessment that parenting is one of the most humbling experiences ever. . . reminded of that on a daily basis. What a gem of wisdom you share when reminding us to focus on being a “good” parent, and just enjoy being with our little people sometimes. That’s part of our learning curve as parents, and while we think we would sometimes like to do certain things over again, just like life, we can’t and really wouldn’t want to.
    (btw, I adopted your gravatar sign off approach — it personalizes in such a nice way to see that Michelle is commenting!)

    • That’s a good point – about judging in general. You are only seeing a snippet of their lives and I know I’ve had a bad day or two that showed up out in public (especially after I’ve said no 5 million times). I’m starting to see the time with my daughter speeding up, as she becomes more independent, so I am trying to appreciate her more and get it “right” a little less.

      It was always a little strange getting addressed as “Green” or “The Green Study”, so I decided to personalize things a bit more. You’ve always been good about signing off with your name on comments – I liked that route as well.

  7. As someone who has been in the tall grass enough that I know how to make crop circles that look just like Kermit and Miss Piggy riding Snuffleupagus, I have this to say this about your post…Well said.
    My husband and I were talking just last night about how quickly our kids became adults and how we wish we’d savored moments of their childhood more. (some moments)
    There is a photo of me and my son, him age two, the picture of mischief, grinning and holding his blanky, me beside him oblivious to the scene, reading Parents magazine.

  8. lucewriter

    I’m still writing about my mother’s little mothering traits which were all taken “by the book” from Dr. Spock. That man caused me a lot of trouble growing up! So I don’t like even professional childrearing advice ;).

    • I suspect that you are not the only person who experienced chronic child rearing tips. Dr. Spock’s book, Baby and Child Care was the second-bestselling book for its first 50 years of publication (next to the Bible)! I think that besides the passing on of old wive’s tales, it was the beginning of pathologizing parenting to the point we hardly recognize our own instincts.

      • lucewriter

        I completely agree with you. Ugh. I never read a parenting book for my own kids, but did go with my instincts. Not saying I did a better job, but at least my kids aren’t writing stories about me yet ;) (just kidding).

  9. Tim

    I’ve never really understood why so many parents and ‘experts’ are convinced there is only one ‘right’ way to do things (theirs, obviously). While there are certain things which I think all parents would agree are universally wrong – encouraging physical violence, lack of support, not teaching your child about Scooby-Doo, that sort of thing – there’s a whole spectrum of ‘rightness’, surely, and what’s right for an individual child depends on both the child and the parents’ preferences. As a parent, I have a reasonable idea of what works, and I know there are times when I have done horribly wrong or silly things too. For me, the only things that are really wrong are to assume that (1) there’s only one way of doing things and (2) not to learn from the mistakes we inevitably make along the way.

    • Great points! I feel relieved that my daughter knows about Scooby Doo and PB & J sandwiches. That would truly be a bereft childhood!

      Like most things, parenting has a serious learning curve. First, there’s all the stuff to keep them alive and then when you find out that they have their own personality and needs, “advice” ends up making everybody miserable. Also, parenting advice changes ALL the time like fad diets, so you have to resist getting caught up in the “what’s hot, what’s not” cycle.

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