Thursday, December 05, 2013

The trouble with parenting advice

Suppose you were growing tomatoes, something I try to do and fail spectacularly nearly every year. This alone would suggest to you that you should not ask me how to grow tomatoes. However, you could probably find someone in your neighborhood who had a bumper crop in tomatoes and ask them how to do it. And you would probably get pretty good advice, although your results would vary because your soil would have a little different composition and the sunlight would strike your yard a little differently.

But tomatoes are an annual crop and the desired result is pretty easy to define: plenty of tasty tomatoes. Kids are . . well, not a crop at all, and different people hope for different results and it takes a whole lot longer than a year to raise them. Results vary.

And people have very fuzzy memories. When it comes to our own lives, we're always rewriting our own histories, casting things in a different light as new events come. By the time a child has been alive long enough to show some kind of evidence of how their parenting was, the parent has already forgotten what they actually did. Much of what we do we don't even know we are doing. I might think my children's love of reading is attributable to my stellar educational program, when it might in fact be attributable to their desire to be out of sight when chore time comes.

I am amazed at how quickly forgetfulness happens. A couple of weeks ago I took my three year old niece for a walk along with the twins. I had already forgotten how short three year old legs are. Five year olds look small, but they can keep up with a leisurely adult stroll. Three year olds just can't. You have to slow down to wedding march slow. And I'd forgotten. I've forgotten what it's like to be awakened all night long, to watch for a chance to dash to the bathroom, to have dinner prep interrupted thirty times (we're down to ten), to have nothing in the house happen without my direct involvement, to know that my child could be in a life-threatening or house-destroying situation within twenty seconds of turning my attention elsewhere. I remember that these things happened, but I have no idea how I actually coped with them, or what I might have done to deal with naps and pickiness while all those were occurring.

So, even though I am currently the parent of four school-aged children, anything I might say about parenting infants or toddlers should be taken with great suspicion. On the other hand, anyone who's currently in the trenches doesn't really have any idea how their actions are going to pan out over the long haul. (Wow, how many cliches can I pack into one sentence?) Then there are the parents who have multiple stages, but any older child from one of those families can tell you just how fuzzy their recollection of what they did with the older children is.

Not to discourage asking for help when you need it. But most of it boils down to: Do the best you can and wait for them to outgrow it.


Diary of an Autodidact said...

I have been thinking of writing something like this. I find that question to be highly annoying. "What did you do to get good kids?"

I hated it when my parents got asked it. (Probably they did too.)

And I hate it now. My answer is, "I have no idea." Because I really don't know what else I could say and tell the truth. Yours is pretty good though. Do the best you can...

Wendy said...

It seems like the stuff I do remember tends to be too general: love your kids a lot. Hmm, they were planning on trying something other than that?

Or sometimes too specific: that one kid who woke up every night at midnight for 6 months and screamed for half an hour... she would quiet down if we took her outside and walked her with movement in 3 dimensions.

Also, people assume because you have a lot of kids, that you are a parenting genius - you must know ho to potty train! Except my method was to keep buying diapers until they didn't want them anymore. Not what the eager mother of an 18 month old wants to hear.

Mostly I remember: gee, that was hard when all my kids were little, and I look for a way to help out.

Queen of Carrots said...

^^Very true about the highly specific advice. I know how to convince Deux not to cry over his clothes getting wet! And how to deal with Dot when she's having her psychotic zombie diva midnight moments! But, yeah, not much of general use.