Parenting Advice: Easy to Give, Harder to Take
I'm not an expert, I'm just a parent. I like that line. It's true and it (sort of) gets me off the hook. When this job was first offered to me, I said, well, I love writing and I have four kids, but please don't ask me to give advice. Nobody should presume to give general advice to parents, because every family is different and every child in every family is different.
I stand by that philosophy.
But it turns out that I also quite enjoy giving advice.
Parents are always looking for clues. I know I am. What secret formula of behavior and diet and sleep and discipline will solve the problems that my child is going through, right now? And it's always changing, much like the brand-new infant busts out of the teeny-tiny 0-3-month pajamas before you can blink. Just when you get a handle on the latest stage, the child moves on, leaving the parents to search for more clues.
That's where advice comes in handy: hints, tips, straws to grasp at in moments of need or confusion or transition.
Recently, I've been humbled by my own advice coming around to bite me. It's occurred to me that it's easy to be an expert--but only when your child is not at the stage you're having expert-like feelings about. In the midst of it, whatever it is (night waking; potty training; back-talking), you feel completely incompetent, utterly stumped by the whimsies of human behavior.For example, I recently blogged about potty training. My youngest, just turned two, was preparing to ditch the diapers and switch to underwear. His older siblings were trained, with great success, using the advice provided in my column on the subject.
You'd think kid number four would operate by the same principles. But you'd only think that if you were feeling like an expert, and had temporarily forgotten what parenting is really like on the ground or, in this case, the bathroom. Kid number four enjoys using his potty, but only when the mood strikes. When he's busy playing, he appears not to care that his pants (or the floor, or the couch cushions! agh!) are getting wet. If removed from the fun for a bathroom break, he flies into a rage and kicks his potty across the floor. This is not (the expert would observe) what we're going for.
I have one steadfast never-to-be-broken rule about potty training: don't turn it into a battle.
So, kid number four is out of underwear and back in cloth training pants. Sometimes he uses his potty. Sometimes he doesn't. I'm waiting to see where this goes. I'll keep you posted.
Another example in parental humbling relates to a blog I wrote several months ago about how to entertain sick kids at home. My suggestions were creative and cozy, and I deliberately chose not to rely too heavily on electronic devices as a means of coping.
My kids were sick last week. All of them. Then I went and caught the bug too. How did I entertain everyone at home for an entire week? I think you can guess. No, I did not revisit my own column for advice. Yes, the television was on almost non-stop. The children slumped before it in varying states of apathy and misery, and I slumped with them, just trying to survive.
So my updated advice, if you have even the faintest desire to take it after hearing all of the reasons why you shouldn't, is to strive for the ideal, but also to be kind to yourself as a parent. Sometimes, in the midst of it all, the best we can do is ignore the experts and go with whatever works to get everyone through.
Don't worry. You'll figure it out. You're a parent, after all.
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.