Parenting Advice From Non-Parents

Imagine if you would, that you are sitting on an airplane awaiting takeoff to your dream vacation. The loudspeaker crackles to life with the following message.

“This is your captain speaking, there will be a slight delay as we resolve a slight problem with the engine.”

Rather than the usual griping, and moaning that might accompany such a message, the entire cabin rises to its feet, climbs out of the plane and wanders over to the engine mechanics who are trying to resolve the problem. The head mechanic looks up at the mob of people.

“Can I help you?” He asks.
“No, we are here to help you.” Comes the reply.
“Oh, you’re mechanics?”
“Hahaha, oh, goodness no, we wouldn’t dream of being mechanics, but we have flown on airplanes before, so please, let us impart upon you our boundless wisdom on the matter of engine repair.”

As ludicrous as this sounds, its fairly similar to the lady behind you in the checkout line at the grocery store who not only feels the burning compulsion to comment on an obvious pregnancy, but share advice that she has gleaned from her sister’s baby, or her best friend’s baby, or the fact that she was a baby once.

I think, for me- the problem is that it seems like everyone assumes that you have no idea what is happening with a pregnancy, or that you’ve got no inkling of what is going to happen when the pregnancy ends with the birth of a human being.
Perhaps it is the innate desire for people to be helpful, to swoop in and save the day for the bewildered young couple about to have a child that drives me insane.

During my wife’s first pregnancy (I dropped the ‘our’ from the first paragraph, it wasn’t fair) I resented the unsolicited advice from people, because I felt like they thought we were morons that needed their guidance. I especially resented the advice from the people whose ‘children’ are the furry kind that pee in litter boxes or drink from toilets. Did we really give the impression of being so daft that someone who knows nothing feels like they need to help us?

These emotions were clearly overreactions on my part. Thankfully, I never voiced my ire, and just strode on with the procedure of nodding, smiling, and mumbling terrible things about these strangers as soon as we were out of earshot.

…It got better though. After the first child was born and #2 was brewing, we would STILL get the advice from people who must have thought we hadn’t a clue what we were up against- despite the little boy clinging to us who very clearly had all of his limbs, and appeared well-fed and healthy. (Not happy though. He was never happy in the presence of strangers.)

I honestly do not understand what drives people to think that giving advice on a matter such as parenting when they have no experience themselves is a good idea, when with literally every other topic, such an endeavor would be ridiculous.

With all that being said, I have since formed my own advice to blossoming parents in regards to advice. (stay with me, I’m almost done)
Essentially, I tell them “Ignore the advice, use common sense, and figure out what works for you.” (I blatantly ignore the irony of my own statement) Figuring things out on our own is half the fun of being a parent, and if we try to wedge our situation to fit that of someone else, all you’re doing is making things more complicated. Remember that other saying – “When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” – Its the same thing. Clinging too tightly to someone’s advice- even that of your own parents- I feel limits your ability to create a full toolbox which you can use to build a child, and indeed a family dynamic that isn’t steeped in confusion, chaos, and possible legal ramifications. (Seriously, stop recommending booze on the gums of a teething child.)

You’ll try, you’ll fail, you’ll learn. Parenting isn’t easy, and most of us who try it are only marginally good at it. Of all the ‘helpful’ parenting books we were stocked up with nearly immediately upon the news that we were expecting, I think we glanced at….2 of them. 99% of the books all start with something like this:

“Every child is different. Now here’s what you do.”

My immediate and rage-filled response to that is obvious. If they’re all different, how can I follow your advice? I understand basic suggestions like “Make sure baby is fed. Don’t shake them. Clean diapers are a must.” – You know, that sort of thing that generally outlines the mechanics of parenting. But the very instant you have a second child and realize that what worked for #1 ain’t gonna cut it for #2, you start to dissolve any sort of faith in those “How to raise your kids” books, blogs, radio shows, articles, magazines, smoke signals, and telegrams. Its then that you’ll formulate your own strategies, battle plans, and theories. And once you’ve got this? The inane advice from that lady at the checkout line makes you want to scream.

…..this post went almost everywhere, and for that I apologize. I’ll try to stay on a single track next time. Promise.

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