Dear Parenting Expert,
As part of the research I’ve been doing for the parenting book I’m currently writing, I’ve been reading and listening to a lot of your opinions over the past several weeks. While most of you have lots of useful advice and reasonable suggestions, the truth is that after reading your books, I end up feeling incompetent, thoughtless, and fairly certain that my child will grow up to be depressed, addicted, and possibly homeless because of my crappy parenting. (Perhaps I’m being a bit of a drama queen, but I’ll bet I’m not alone.)
The thing is, I want your advice. I need your help, but I don’t need the shame (I’ve got that covered already, thank you very much). And so, as a parent and a social worker, I’d like to offer a few suggestions for anyone with enough chutzpah to offer parenting advice (including myself):
– Please don’t tell me that you’ve found the secret to raising healthy, happy, successful children. No matter how much experience or research you may have on your side, the truth is that human development is way more complicated and unpredictable than that. We all know stories of kids raised by thoughtful, connected parents who end up struggling mightily, as well as kids from broken, troubled childhoods who turn to be great successes. Sadly, there are no guarantees in parenting, so please don’t tell me you have the answers.
– Don’t act as if you always got it right. I’m tired of hearing about how you have such a wonderful relationship with your children because you were so patient and kind and thoughtful all the time. You and I both know you screwed it up on more than one occasion, and that your kids are still fine (and possibly even better off as a result, depending on how you handled it). You’ll have a lot more credibility with me if you acknowledge how hard parenting is, and that you weren’t perfect at it either.
– Keep in mind that most parents have neither disposable time nor income. Several of you suggest that we make a point of spending time alone with each of our children each day, even if we have to hire a babysitter for the other children. I love this idea, and I think most parents agree that it would be great if we had this kind of time and money. The truth is that it would be a struggle for me to do this, even though I have a) a supportive husband and b) the flexibility of working from home. What about single parents with more than one child who work full time?
(Along those lines, please try to keep your parenting books to a reasonable length. We parents are a tired crew, and we’d love to spend our free time thinking about something other than parenting. I’m sure you can make your point in fewer than 500 pages.)
– Try to remember that there really is no such thing as an expert in parenting. Yes, there are professionals who may have a lot of experience working with children of certain age groups, or those with certain disabilities or behavioral challenges, but there is, quite simply, no such thing as a “parenting expert.” You may have opinions, ideas, tricks, and tools that might be helpful, and I’m grateful for all of them. But I also know this much—I’m not even an expert on my own children (and I hope I never get to the point where I think I’ve got them all figured them out), so please don’t presume that you’ve got all the answers either.
– Remember the North Star rule. The North Star is the one star in the sky that generally keeps its location, and the sailor and mountaineers who navigate by this star see it as their guide rather than their destination. They don’t expect to ever arrive there, and the same should be true for any type of parenting advice. The times when we will actually get parenting “right” can be few and far between, and parenting books shouldn’t be written as if we will ever arrive on the Isle of Perfect Parenting. Rather, we parents need to be reminded that your advice is a north star, something to help re-orient us when we lose our way. We need to be reminded again and again that we can make mistakes and still be good parents.
– Let’s keep a sense of humor about the whole thing. Some of you all are just so damn serious, and I understand why. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in our minds, worrying about whether or not we’re doing a good enough job or if our children will actually turn out ok. I’ve been there often. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, “parenting is far too important to be taken seriously.” It’s just so much easier when we can laugh at our ourselves.
Just Another Mama Who’s Trying to Figure It All Out
*(For the record, I feel completely ridiculous every time I tell someone that I’m writing a parenting book, because if any of you had the opportunity to be a fly on the wall in my house for just a day or two, you’d be laughing your tushies off.)