This week’s post is my own response to last week’s, “Caring What They Say”, which spoke to caring about what our children say. While it is important to be an active listener in all conversations with your children (and well, in all your important relationships), you simply do NOT have to listen to what everyone has to say, especially with regards to parenting advice from non-parents.
Case in point: Before I was a parent, I had T-H-E best parenting advice that I (thankfully) kept to myself.
I would visit friends with kids and make mental notes of the many errors in their ways. I simply knew that it was ridiculous to do x, y, and z with, to, or for children. I would certainly not be one of those parents.
I was convinced that my one-day children would never be in any sort of trouble, never have tantrums in public, never talk back, never struggle academically or emotionally.
I would never say things like:
- Please don’t put that pencil up your nose. No, I don’t care if it IS the eraser end. There’s nothing to erase up there.
- Wow that IS a great treasure to find on our treasure hunt but please put it down. You can’t bring it home, honey. It’s petrified dog poop, not a pine cone. (Where’s the damn hand sanitizer?)
- I am drawing the line right here. (and then look at my girls as they stared at the ground waiting to see exactly where and with what I would draw the damn line.)
No. I was rational and would always be rational with my rational kids to whom I would say only rational things. I would not need curfews or consequences, not for toddlers and not for teens. I, as a non-parent, was wise – apparently by osmosis – and knew the future.
And then … I became a member of “the club”.
Other parents won’t be surprised when I say it wasn’t long until I began muttering silent apologies to my already parenting friends that began something like this: “I’m sorry that I thought you were a foolish parent. I’m sorry that I was absolutely certain that you were too permissive or too strict. I’m sorry that I judged you. I’m sorry that I assumed anything. At all. And, by the way, do you hand out consequences for pencils up a nose?”
Oh, if my friends knew all that I knew then! Thankfully, I never voiced my holier-than-thou comments. Sill, if not for their sleep deprived states, they could easily have read all of my thoughts from the unspoken words to my sassy and silent narratives. It was written all over my poorly disguised, disapproving face.
But, having children was the transformative moment. Suddenly, all that I knew - or, thought I knew - was tossed aside, trampled upon with muddy shoes indoors, and buried under projectile vomit.
My clean and organized mental parenting rulebook became a mess of notes scribbled in margins. Here’s my analogy: My cookbooks. They contain recipes which I read not as rules but as guidelines to be adjusted for specific situations that take into account tastes, allergies, amount of time left to cook before the hunger-fed evening squabbles turn into starved boxing matches, etc. so that each page has my scrawled entries of what worked and what didn’t, with adjusted proportions and substituted ingredients and the inevitable food stains which tell another story.
My parenting rulebook looks like my recipe books. There is that which is in print (in my head) which I was sure would be THE correct method and that which I have jotted down along the edges and crossed out completely to accommodate for each of my daughters, their needs, my needs, and so forth. The seasoning must always change per child, per moment. And instead of food smears, it is my tears that stain my mental pages as I try to get this parenting thing right.
I have learned (and continue to learn) to parent on a very basic level: Listen. To. My. Children. Then … pause. Then listen to both my head and my heart. Then … pause. Repeat – maybe twice. Maybe more.
But, in situations that require a more creative approach than I can conceive of, I look to other parents.
I no longer judge most parents. And I simply don’t pay attention to the unspoken or spoken sage advice of those who are not parents or who don’t know me well or my daughters specifically. I may listen politely to try to retrieve a tidbit or two that I can tweak, but I simply don’t truly care what they say.
That’s where I draw the line. Right…