Monday, April 29, 2013

Dealing with Parenting Advice (aka Everyone's an Expert)

I have watched a lot of other people's kids. My dad insisted that I start paying for certain unnecessary teenagery things back when I was thirteen. Between those pesky child labor laws and the fact that I lived in Teeny Tiny Middle of Nowhere Montana, there weren't a lot of options. So I started babysitting.

I started small: my little brother's friends, neighbor kids. After a couple years, I was in charge of the children's room during Sunday service at the Methodist church and was the go-to sitter for the preschool (they had parent meetings and I was left with 15-20 four year olds...that's a great training program for either a crisis intervention specialist or a zoo keeper). By the end of high school, I had nannied for two different families over three different summers. Since then, I have babysat off and on, usually as favors to friends and family, and across one summer between getting my PhD and starting my real job because I apparently hate free time.

In summary, I have a lot of experience with kids. I should addend that to specify that I have a lot of experience with kids between 5 months and whatever age you want to use as a cutoff for 'kids.' (When I volunteered with the high school drama team this past fall, there were times I was basically babysitting 17 year olds.) I haven't spent too much time actually keeping a newborn alive, so that should be new and exciting *translation: exhausting and poop covered.*

Of course, this hasn't stopped anyone from giving me parenting advice. I'll be the first to admit, I'm not very good at accepting advice. Or even listening to advice. I put little stock into one person's idiosyncratic experiences, preferring to mix and match and also research. This is why I find listening to parenting advice to be extremely annoying. Sadly, today most parents have had little to no experience with children before having their own (I'm not judging, I've just seen the kind of panic this can lead to once their own arrives). Also, if you corner them, you can get most to admit that they don't really like children, they just like their own children.

Let me take a moment to say that I am not the authority on children. I know I have and will get frustrated, make mistakes, etc., etc., humility, etc. That said, I have been in a position to see how different parenting styles works with some kids, and how that same parenting approach can totally backfire for other kids (usually the first kid's sibling). It's like kids are little people with individual personalities and perspectives and shit. Crazy!

That said, I find most of the advice to be given in a very condescending manner. I know people assume that their experiences are shared by all, I've read that research, but it's ridiculous to think that everyone is approaching becoming a parent from the same place. And, honestly, it's insulting when you assume I've never prepared a bottle, fought an infant over a sleep routine, changed a diaper, or been followed into the bathroom by a toddler. As a sitter, I did get the benefit of going home at the end of the day (except for those two summers when I was a live-in nanny), but I had to handle all the behavioral issues without being able to even raise my voice, because they were never my kids. Yelling at someone else's kids is a no-no, for those of you who haven't been paid to keep other people's children alive.

Also, just because something did or didn't work for you and your child doesn't mean I will have the same experience. Again, there is that whole individuality thing.

"Seriously, it worked great for us!" (source)

But the worst aspect is this: if I choose to do something differently, that isn't passing judgment on you. This has nothing to do with you. This is about me and my family so stop sputtering and getting offended. [I've apparently been holding that one in for a while, sorry.]

Having said all that, in addition to having experience with kids, I have experience with adults, too. And I know that the advice isn't going to stop. I have years and years of advice to look forward to (I am so excited, I just threw up in my mouth). So this is my new strategy: I ask about something very specific that I don't know about or that will never apply to me. That way, the advice-giver can heap advice my way and I don't feel the urge to contradict them by pointing out that research has found the exact opposite to be true, or that I've had to use that same strategy in a dozen different households and it usually backfires. I don't know if this plan will work long-term, but the short-term effects have proven to be very good for my mood.

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