Loved-ones and strangers wanting to pet your baby comes with the territory, but please curb the undesired parenting advice, Charlie Capen writes.
How long will I to have to endure listening to unrequested parenting criticism and advice?
This past week someone close to us told us that my son evidently has a “discipline problem.” This information was delivered first to my wife (who almost lost it), after which I called Captain Commentary to see if I could clear up the misunderstanding. The critic launched into a solid hour of armchair quarterbacking. I paraphrase:
Your son, maliciously and premeditatedly, hurled a sippy cup at your wife’s head. On purpose. Following that, he went over to a younger cousin and hit him. Twice. On purpose. He is undisciplined and the sole cause of stress in your life.
This, after only 40 minutes of observation. He was barely 18 months old at the time. My son, not the critic.
You can imagine how shocked I was to hear that my giggling laugh-riot of a son was already on the road to petty larceny and war crimes. The resident toddlerologist is an adult with grown kids of their own. Their observations were unsolicited and completely out of the blue. My son’s maladjustment was just that severe, I guess. They went on to take issue that Finn wasn’t subsequently disciplined after the assault, even played with instead. The f**king horror. You’re right. I probably should have waterboarded him and set some of his toys on fire. I fought every urge in my body to launch my cell phone beyond the stratosphere and hit the satellite linking our phone call. I was a quiet storm inside.
When people make observations about your kids it’s easy to get defensive. A “who the f**k are you to judge my kid” rage can erupt. I made a definite effort to keep my ear canals open so I could look at the statements honestly. I listened. I was diplomatic.
There’s a reason the website I help run is named “HowToBeADad.com.” The title might confuse you at first. Parenting how-to’s are everywhere and they’re often just festering tubs of horse dung stinking up the minds of frightened parents. We are trying to satirize them. We didn’t want to tell you how to DO anything. If you need resources, you can find them. I love useful parenting tips or nuggets, but when someone comes at me with a “this is how it must be done” authoritarian attitude, my brow furrows. My fists might also clench. But let’s keep that between us.
I’ll be the first to admit, I’m a stubborn person. Blame it on my astrological sign, my upbringing or my uncanny good looks. I don’t really care. But that doesn’t make me immune to criticism. I don’t think I’m a perfect parent (as further explained here). Hell, I’ll be the first to say I’m not that great at it. I feel like I’m failing half the time and the other half, well, I’m too tired to even assess my own performance.
But let’s have a frank talk about parenting advice, shall we?
When you have a baby, you expect the doting commentary about their looks and unceasing requests to hold the baby. There’s also the occasional “Ohhh! I’m just going to steal your child!” As time passes, relatives and close friends start laying on the advice pretty thick. Some of it can be helpful but the majority can seem utterly unenlightening or border on insulting condescension. The suggestions can also have a tendency to turn into harsh moral judgments on you in a blink. The saddest part is that they were all probably borne out of some helpful intention, but there’s a particularly poisonous venom when these suck-gestions come from someone really familiar or close to you. Honestly, there should be a statute of limitations on prejudging other parents, or maybe a full-scale embargo on undesired counsel. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.
Growing up, as undisciplined bohemians, my brother and I were told not say “shut up” to each other. So, we invented a new phrase: “SHUT MOUTH!” It was our way of being clever and rude when we couldn’t say what we wanted to tell each other.
This is where I’m at now. My son is amazing by my own standards and you should hope that people don’t scrutinize you sir, in this life, as hard as you’ve scrutinized my two-year old son.
Originally posted at How To Be a Dad.
—Photo Charlie Capen