It doesn’t matter how you become a parent. Whether they are a child of your own loins, a step child or an adopted bundle of joy, the moment that someone realizes you’re a member of the ‘Parent Tribe’, the unsolicited advice will come.
It will come from your parents. It will come from your friends. It will come from strangers in the grocery store. There is something that compels us as parents to give advice. Even those of us who boldly proclaim how much we hate unsolicited advice can’t help ourselves.
Maybe it’s because even after a few weeks of baby wrangling, we feel battle tested. We are suddenly grizzled vets with fire in our bellies and spit up on our shirts. We know what works, and more importantly, we know what doesn’t work. We feel that it is our civic duty to take the rookies under our wings and teach them the ropes.
The problem with that? We know what worked for our children, and what worked for our kids and our situation might (and probably won’t) work for their children. It’s something that we all have to keep in mind when we share our nuggets of wisdom.
With that being said, I wanted to share with you the standard advice that I give to my friends who decide to undertake the odyssey that is parenting.
Find a network of close confidants who have recently become parents
I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve walked out of one of my children’s bedrooms, looked at my wife and with astonishment in my voice uttered, “What the hell just happened?” It’s a given that your kids will perplex you at some point. You need someone in your life that you can go to and ask “Uhm, is this normal?”. Just so you can make sure that your toddler compulsively lining up his dinosaurs each morning is actually standard operating procedure and not copyright infringing plans for a future theme park.
If it’s possible, there is nothing quite like having your folks around to provide some support and advice. However, while they can be a great resource, with every passing day, we learn more and more about child development as well as new ways to help keep our children safe, which means that their methodology, while well-intentioned, might be a little outdated.
That’s why it’s best to reach out to your fellow rookies. Find close friends, cousins, siblings that have recently had children. You’ll be able to compare notes and be reassured that it’s probably just teething, and your child hasn’t actually been possessed by a demon. There’s also a pretty good chance that they’ll recommend that you drink that thimble full of bourbon yourself rather than giving it to your kid.
There is very little more amusing to a veteran of the Parenting Saga than a new parent who says something like,“I will never let my kids eat a chicken nugget; they will eat what we’re having” or “I’m never going to yell at my kids.” Their own childlike innocence and naiveté is so undeniably sweet that it’s endearing.
For us, it was the idea of bassinettes. We weren’t going to use them. It seemed like an unnecessary expense. After all, we have a pretty good sized bedroom. There would be plenty of room to put the twins’ cribs in our room. How often do you need to comfort an infant during the night? Once, twice and most? We have two kids; there are two of us. We can get up out of bed and rock them as needed. There is no reason to bother getting bassinettes… We weren’t out of the hospital before we called my in-laws and sent them to Target to buy us bassinettes.
That seems like a silly example, but there are things that we can set up in our minds as being so vital to our identity and ability to parent, that when things don’t work out the way that we expect them to, it can be emotionally crippling. Maybe it’s nursing versus formula. Maybe it’s a particular sport or activity or passion that we so desperately want our children to love as much as we do, and our kids just don’t take to, and it crushes us.
That’s why it is so important to be flexible. We have to understand that our plans are just that: our plans, and our children may or may not be on the same page. If we go into it all with the mindset that we are going to always do what works best for us and our family and roll with the punches, the more likely we are to enjoy our parenting experience.
Laugh, a lot
Parenting can be exhausting, nerve racking, and unbelievably frustrating. However, we have the ability to choose how we react to a given situation.
With your help, your kids are learning how to human. They’re bound to make some mistakes along the way. When they do, we can scream, we can cry or we can laugh. This doesn’t mean that you’re not going to need to lay down the hammer from time to time, but it’s also important to maintain your sense of humor. Messes can be cleaned up; broken things can be replaced. Today’s frustrations make for tomorrow’s great stories.
Take it all with a grain of salt
All parenting advice, solicited or unsolicited, should be taken as a suggestion and not instructions. Use your own experiences and intuition as a filter for parenting advice. Take what works for you and ignore what doesn’t. When it’s all said and done, most of us are making it up as we go along.