Will the real par­ent­ing ex­pert please stand up?

The Compass - - OPINION -

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.

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