Monday, January 26, 2015

"Good" Advice: No, You Don't Know How To Parent...

Idio(t)m--"Good" Advice: No, You Don't Know How To Parent...Someone Else's Child.

We've all heard the sometimes dreaded and condescending statement issued from lips of well meaning but sometimes ignorant (at least of your situation) people: "Let me give you a bit of advice..." Then we bite our tongue and listen hoping there will be some profound answer in their next few sentences, but more than not it ends up useless. We can empathize with others but we can't truly understand unless we are in the trenches with them. This statement never bothered me much, this is, until I became a parent.

My son just turned 3. I've been getting well meaning but useless advice from a lot of parents for over three years (yes, the hypothetical advice starts while that child is in utero). They don't get it; they don't understand because their child is not yours. They're different--the parents and the children. The only good advice I've been given (since the doctors constantly have said, "nothing you can do about it" and "he'll grow out of it") is from my parents, grandmother, and those other "lucky" individuals who have those hyperactive, colic, acid reflux, and/or premature children.

The same goes for me. Will I be able to give you advice on how to get your reserved and scared child to play with other kids? Probably not, considering my child runs up to kids he's never seen before, squeals with delight, tags them, and runs off laughing. Will I be able to help you figure out how to curb a certain behavior in your child? Definitely not, considering my child is hardly the malleable type. I can only tell you what we tried and what works for us, but that probably won't work for you. Parenting is a lonely idiosyncratic business in that you have to experiment to see what works for your family, not what works for others.

You're alone, yes, but can get support, and some advice can help you feel at ease or "normal." If you ask me what dealing with colic is, I'll be able to paint a pretty picture, give you a little advice, but most likely I'll tell you to call me for help when you begin crying louder than the baby (yes colic is that bad). Because it sucks, others will judge your child as the Antichrist, go as far as blame you for letting your child suffer (which basically says in a roundabout way that they think you're a lousy parent torturing your own child) and as the doctors love to say, "there's nothing you can do about it." With colic you just wait for the changeling to leave and your sanity to return (after you've tried every old wives' tale cure, herb, and over the counter "remedy," naturally, plus referencing Dr. Google about the condition).

So why do we give people unwanted advice? We see others struggle and wish to help but without a full understanding of the child, meaning we see him/her every day for hours on end, we can't give any sound advice. What works for us as parents doesn't work for others. I've been told by a few well meaning people that I need to take my discipline up a notch. They don't see how I discipline so saying that irks me (in this day and age I'm afraid to actually discipline in public since social services are called and investigate the slightest things--like letting a 10 yr old walk home alone, going to the store with messy kids, etc). People assume since my child is wild, loves to get into everything, and runs everywhere, and I mean RUN (can't wait to get him into track), that he is never reprimanded for his behavior.

Oh boy, he's been reprimanded let me tell you! We've tried almost everything to teach him to listen and to not act certain ways (time outs, taking toys away, losing privileges, scolding, talking it out, and more--all multiple times); I've studied up on discipline theories, reviewed what I learned in child psychology, yet nothing seems to curb bad behaviors except redirection and rewards. And when I say bad behaviors, it's what others consider "bad." In our house we pick our battles. My child doesn't hit, kick, bite, scratch and rarely is aggressive towards others. He cries sometimes, but it's never those long hysterical tantrums I see some kids perform. We don't worry too much about his picky eating, his inability to follow directions at times, and his insane energy level that leaves clouds of messes in his wake. I mean, when I scold him for dumping out toys or tearing pages out of books and he tells me with tears in his eyes, "I can't help it!" I feel sorry for him; even the doctor said he is hyperactive and literally can't control himself at times, that the impulses are so strong that he does wrong knowingly. My child is wild but in a harmless way (unless you consider making messes and being loud cardinal sins--and some people act like they are).

So when the parent whose child is biting another or talking back to an adult lectures me about my discipline style, I smile, nod and refrain from pointing my finger at their children, even though it is so hard to bite your tongue when they put your child down and ignore the behavior in their own! As most know, toddlers are hard to deal with on any level. It seems every 2/3 year old has some evil streak his/her parent wishes to ignore, which is why they project their aggressive criticism onto other parents. I don't want to be like them, to lash out at others due to insecurities. I've accepted that in the eyes of society I'm not perfect and my son is not either, but the most important thing I've discovered is I wouldn't change a thing about my son for the world. In my eyes he's amazing, his personality adorable, and his energy, well, I'm darn jealous. I'd be a millionaire if I could somehow bottle it up.

My son and I aren't the problem here. People who think they and their children are perfect, who expect perfection from everyone, are the real problem. They need to back off, mind their own business, and stop trying to police other parents. Being a parent is difficult and most first-time parents are very insecure in their new roles, so there's no reason to make the parents feel like failures because everything isn't "perfect." Having a premature child automatically makes you an insecure mother; you unconsciously blame yourself for every little issue with your child, because more often than not the problem is linked to the fact you inadequately carried your child. It's like you fail the first Mommy test--you can't even keep the baby safe and healthy for nine months. These are the kind of thoughts--guilt, self loathing, despair, and anxiety--that plague a mother of a premature child. The last thing this mother needs is unwanted and useless advice, and criticism. It took me a year to figure all this out, ignore others, and to be confident in my parenting abilities; plus most of my son's issues cleared up by then.

As a rule, I now only give advice when a friend asks for it, or asks how I handle it, and even then I explain what worked for me or what I think but stress it's just my view on things and for the parent to do what he/she deems right. I turn a blind eye to strange or obnoxious toddler behavior when in public; I actually find it endearing at times how toddlers have no filter for their emotions. I no longer judge the parent--alright most of the time. That guy who backhanded his toddler in the restaurant and the chick who left her kid in a cabin for three days to get drugs--there's a special place in Hell, and jail, for them. But the average parent doesn't deserve our judgement, especially from childless people who have yet to be in the trenches with us. To give advice without experience is just plain silly. Before you get offended, think of it this way: would I give you advice how to play a perfect game of basketball? No, because I am 5 feet tall, don't really remember the rules, and don't watch it.
So give advice if you like but those parents will only do what is best for their particular situation. Don't offend them and don't get offended by them. Parent your own children and I'll parent my own. If someone asks for your advice, try to word it a way that doesn't seem to dictact what they should be doing as if what they're doing is all wrong. Merely tell them what particularly worked for you and add kindly, "but all kids are different." It doesn't take much to be kind to others rather than critical. And you just let me deal with this on my own.

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