Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid
The best parenting advice comes from within
Every year my dad comes up from South Carolina for Super Bowl weekend to celebrate his Feb. 4 birthday. The past two years, my oldest son has come home from college to visit and, together with a few friends, we all enjoy an evening of pro football, Crock-Pot chili and birthday cake.
This year while preparing the chili, I suggested to my husband that we watch some old home videos before the game. Everyone gathered around to relive the "Snowpocalypse" of 2000, when my sons were only 2½ and 1 year old — and not much taller than the snow on the ground. I recalled the layout of our first home during a video of my younger son’s first birthday party as I watched my older son throw inflated balloons into the air. Neighbors we don’t get to see much anymore laughed in the background while the birthday boy stuffed a slice of Blue’s Clue’s cake into his mouth. We watched our daughter take her first steps in the fall of 2002 and delighted in a warm spring day in 2004 when all three kids spent hours running through a sprinkler in the front yard.
Those years were filled with a liveliness I yearn for now that my children are 19, 18 and 15. I miss the chaotic parties, bedtime stories and building blocks scattered across the living room floor. I often recall the Thursday morning playgroups we attended, and the many therapeutic conversations I had with my mom friends about the struggles — and triumphs — of raising children.
As the last tape ended, a feeling of satisfaction washed over me. I realized all of those years of heeding my mom instincts had paid off. My kids have turned out to be kind, empathetic, hard-working and humble — everything my husband and I hoped for and more. And the best feeling of all was the realization that we didn’t need to read the latest parenting books or blogs, or follow “expert” advice to know how to raise our children. We just followed our hearts and intuition.
As you navigate the various challenges of parenting, I offer these revelations — NOT as advice, but as confirmation of my confidence in you as a parent. Don’t let anyone tell you they know better than you do about what’s best for your child. YOU are your child’s No. 1 expert.
Savor the Chaos
When you’re in the midst of raising children, it’s easy to get caught up in familiar routines and lose sight of the special memories being created. There are going to be days when you can’t keep life in order. Toys will cover the floor. Meals won’t be healthy. Neighbors might hear you scream into your pillow. Stop and savor the chaos. Before you know it, your toddler’s cheeky smile will be replaced with an adolescent smirk. Don’t wish those crazy days away. You only get to experience them once.
Take ‘Expert Advice’ With a Few Grains of Salt
Throughout our parenting years, my husband and I listened and reluctantly fielded advice about:
- How many kids we should have.
- How far apart in years they should be spaced.
- When they should achieve each milestone.
- How we would know they were “ready” for preschool or kindergarten.
- Blah blah blah. You get the idea.
Some people feel that just because they’ve given birth, they’re entitled to consulting you on how to make every decision possible related to raising your child. My favorite “expert” — parents whose oldest child is younger than my youngest. Um… I've got this. Thanks, but no thanks.
Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid
Throughout the nearly 20 years my husband and I have spent raising three kids, we’ve interacted with teachers, doctors, book authors, coaches and other professionals who try to wow you with a philosophy or mission designed to improve your child. Unfortunately, these professionals aren’t always able to follow through with their promises. This happens for various reasons — impossible expectations, bias, hypocrisy or just plain ignorance, to name a few. An ideology can be crafted to sound bulletproof until that bullet pierces your child’s self-confidence and trust in what your family bought into. When this happens, stop drinking the Kool-Aid and walk away — quickly.
Laugh Off Labels
If my husband and I believed the labels that have been slapped onto our kids by various “experts,” we would be the proud parents of stereotypical teens. If you’ve instilled confidence, love and trust in your children, they should be capable of making reasonable decisions about the way they act, dress, talk and behave as they grow and mature — instead of basing their decisions on stereotypes and perceived peer expectations. This is where instincts and intuition should be your guide — and theirs.
Remember: One Size Does Not Fit All
I have three children with three very distinct personalities. My oldest is cautious and contemplative. He loves puns and complex thinking. My second oldest sometimes reacts impulsively to things that excite him but is very tenacious and never starts something he can’t finish. My youngest is competitive, sensitive and reflective. She values loyalty and trust.
As your children grow and become more independent, their true nature will emerge and you’ll realize the motivational and disciplinary tactics that worked for one, may not work for another. Sadly, many schools, government institutions, sports programs and youth organizations don’t consider this very important reality and make broad-based decisions about expected behaviors, so the responsibility falls on you to nourish what “makes your child tick” outside of those arenas.
Parenting is not easy. My husband and I doubted our parenting skills and decisions on numerous occasions. We aren't perfect and neither are our children. But at the end of each day, they hug our necks and tell us they love us. They continue to make us proud, showing their love and respect for us in their own way.
We are grateful that we trusted our instincts and intuition over the past almost-20 years to see them grow into the uniquely wonderful human beings they have become, and we know the same will happen for you if you follow your heart and intuition. Remember: You are the only expert your child needs.