Will the real parenting expert please stand up?
I’m not a parenting expert. It’s pretty selfevident, really. I have a five-year-old who has not allowed a recognizable vegetable to pass his lips in over two years; a three-year-old whose tempe r tantrums could not be bested by the residents of Bedlam; and a toddler who, although sweet and loveable and mostly well-behaved, has a devilishly good time tormenting and hurting his older siblings.
I suppose you could say I have an expert’s experience, though. Being the mom of three of the clingiest, crankiest, pokiest, brightest, most active kids around gives one plenty of opportunity to practice one’s skills.
I have tried every trick and suggestion in the books, and some you’d never find in the books. But I can’t call myself an expert because I don’t feel like I’ve reached any kind of pinnacle of skill.
Every day there’s a new issue I have to muddle my way through without knowing if I’m muddling rightly or wrongly. I’ve read magazines, books, weblogs and skywriting to try and find the answers to my parenting questions. I have even (gasp!) consulted with my own parents.
After all the research, I suffer not from a lack of knowledge, but too much. If I were to take just the suggestions on getting my children to sleep through the night and try each one for a week ... well, the baby will probably have moved out of the house before I’ve tried them all.
I’ve often wondered how one becomes a “parenting expert.” After all, I’ve never seen a degree or even a diploma program offered in parenting, though there might be times we all wish suc h a course were offered.
Af t e r e x t ens iv e research, involving copious use of Google, I’ve seen that many of these experts rely more on their experience as teachers, social workers, nannies or child psychologists than on any parenting experience they might have. I’ve also discovered a disturbing truth; some of these parenting experts aren’t even parents themselves!
Would you send your dog to an obedience school where the trainer doesn’t own a dog? Would you take baking advice from someone who doesn’t own a whisk? How can someone be an “expert” with no real experience?
Yet, as parents, we eagerly read the advice of these self-styled experts who have us walking in and out of our child’s bedroom every five minutes at night and designating “time-out” mats in every corner of our house during the day.
If we spent as much time thinking through and working out our own solutions to parenting problems as we do reading about and implementing the latest expert parenting advice, we’d probably all have model children.
The problem with thinking it through ourselves is that parents never get a moment to think. We’re running from one crying child to another in bionic speed time while simultaneously wiping spills from the floor and cooking a nutritious meal with no discernable vegetables in it.
Have you ever noticed how parenting experts seem to specialize in key areas: discipline, communication, sleep? If only parents could do that! All the effort we expend each day concentrated in one key area would create miracles.
That’s not how parenting works, however. It’s more of a “general knowledge” than a specialist program.
Unfortunately, there’s no training or probationary period. We’re all flung into the middle of the action without even a helmet to protect us. And the majority of us survive, even thrive. We grow, we learn, and, along with our children, we do make it through fairly unscathed.
For every “expert” out there, standing outside the real action of parenting - directing our bedtimes, mealtimes, homework times and playtimes - there are hundreds of parents muddling through just like you and me.
Each has their own approach, their own philosophy and, I’m sure, more than one trick to share. Yet, they all also have their own frustrations. Those times when you feel like the worst parent in the world, there are hundreds of other parents feeling the exact same thing at that exact same moment.
So the next time you find yourself flopping down on a kitchen chair and eying the dishes in despair after having finally gotten your child(ren) to bed two hours late, relax. You’re not alone. Each of those struggles teaches us more about our children and ourselves. Perhaps we’ll never be experts.
We’ll surely always make mistakes. But in the way we handle those stresses, persevere through, and show our children that they’re important enough for us to struggle over, we’re teaching them some of the most important lessons they’ll learn.
And one day, when they have kids of their own, they’ll put down the latest “parenting expert’s” book and ask for our advice.
And I’m sure we’ll have lots.