I’m the mother of four rambunctious boys. Have been one for close to two decades. I was an eager babysitter before I even hit my teens, and was reading about parenting as I babysat my little cousins way back when nuclear families were only starting to become the norm. I got parenting advice from books, courses, friends, relatives, online and all over the world. I also have over two decades of teaching under my belt. You’d think I’d have a lot to say about parenting… But I don’t.
I can honestly say I never got any advice that I didn’t listen to or read and say… ok… that’s just common sense! And then I’ve gotten a ton of advice that I truly wish I could unhear or unread, because it was sooo unbelievably, obnoxiously contrary to what I consider to be common sense. This kind of advice is usually dished out in unhealthy portions, freely, unsolicited, and insistently. If you have a nosy neighbor, a chatty girlfriend who doesn’t have kids but is planning to, or an overbearing something in law, then you know what I mean.
Don’t get me wrong, support and kindness are always welcome, and I always make sure to be supportive and just physically or emotionally THERE for my friends who want me to. But I CRINGE every time someone asks me for parenting advice. I’m averse to dishing it out. Honest to Goodness… The only thing I wish I could ever say to anyone who openly asks is simply this: TRUST your instincts. (Grazie Melanie!)
Truth is that what works for me might not work for you, and me telling you what to do is just going to impose my worldview, which might be completely irrelevant or even irreverent to yours. It might even replace your best judgement, and that’s absolutely the worst thing that could happen. If you quiet down, settle, listen to yourself, listen to your children, you’ll find that the answers are right there, in front of you and inside of you. You know what? If you ask your kids what’s going on, they actually might surprise you with the clarity with which they can communicate their needs and concerns to you! But the caveat of course is that you must have fostered an environment in which they will feel safe and secure to tell you what they need, knowing without a shadow of a doubt that you’ll take care of them as soon as they do. [insert narcissist mother alert!] And this isn’t done overnight. It’s practiced, every day, every minute. Trial and error, and you’ll get it.
I find that following any standardized method is all just noise that distracts from you being fully present in your motherhood. It may have possibly, conceivably, probably worked for dozens of others, maybe even hundreds or thousands, but I GUARANTEE you that if you revisit these same people in different circumstances they’ll do things slightly differently. It’s like anything else, there is no one approach, there is no one size fits all solution to parenting. Each issue is unique, each individual different, and situations change constantly. The best you can do is to pay attention, pay CLOSE attention, and listen carefully, be honest with yourself and your child, and act accordingly. The Circle of Security philosophy is be Bigger, Stronger, Wiser, and Kind, and that pretty much sums it up. You can slice it any way you like, dissect it, diffuse it, tweak it, but it’s essentially all there, and believe it or not, you already knew this.
This is by no means meant to hold you back from asking for help if you need it. I’ve needed it, and I’ve asked for it. It’s not meant to discourage you from researching, reading, learning and better understanding the various milestones that our children go through, what possible causes a certain behavior may have, or anything of the sort. What I’m saying is that expecting someone, anyone, to simply tell you what to do basically not only robs you of a growth and bonding opportunity with your child, but deprives you of the necessary thought processes and involvement that are necessary for true trouble-shooting and problem-solving. If you need a sounding board, fantastic, get someone to bounce ideas off of, without judgement or interference, but don’t cheat yourself out of claiming your own solutions and taking full responsibility for your situation. I don’t mean to seem callous, I’m not encouraging anyone to go it alone, what I am saying is that nobody can do that for you, and if you allow them to, you will relegate yourself to a servile position simply because you’ll find yourself in the same problems repeatedly, not having gone through the process of understanding your particular issues and faced them head on. Parenting is like any other learning process, and although the basic principles are universal (see Circle of Security above), each issue is individual and specific to your circumstance. Me telling anyone what to do removes the opportunity for making connections that are meaningful and therefore lasting and growth inducing for them.
I believe in flexibility, I believe in living life authentically with who you are and who your kids are, in the specific place and at the particular period you’re in. So I categorically refuse to box myself or anyone else into one range of parenting skills. On the flip side, I strongly advocate for support systems that are based on non-judgemental parameters, which is what I espoused at my Caterpillar Cafe, at my Seminars , at my Craft Camps, and in my everyday interactions with friends and family.
What a friend does, isn’t taking over your life and living it for you, they listen to you, ask you questions, and help you figure things out for yourself. If they are truly good friends they won’t take offense if you take a direction that they wouldn’t have, if they see that this is what works for you. Why should parenting be any different? We weren’t born with manuals, nor are our kids, nor were our ancestors. Yet we all manage, some better than others, but I guarantee you nobody has gone through parenthood without making mistakes or facing insecurities and issues of varying sizes. You might think that your parents were too strict, too inconsistent, ok, so we learn from that. We try to do better, but don’t think you’ll get it perfectly, and don’t dismiss everything you’ve inherited from them, there’s knowledge to be gathered everywhere. But whatever you do, don’t let anything or anyone replace your own judgement, nobody can step in your shoes, nor should you want them to.
What are your thoughts on this? Are you quick to try out every new parenting system? Are you sick and tired of people telling you how to parent? Are you just trying to get away from old parenting tropes? Or are you trying to find your own zone? Le me know what you think!