Too Much Advice?

This porridge is too hot, this one too cold! Parenting tips are best when they taste just right! Emory Luce Baldwin shares tips to help us find the "just right" parenting resources. One of my favorite parenting writers, Larry Cohen (author of Playful Parenting) just sent out his e-mail newsletter.  He mentioned that he is now on an I-Tunes App about parenting.  I am always interested in what Larry has to say, so I went to download the App.  First, I was amazed to find that there are now 50 Apps available from I-Tunes on the subject of parenting alone.  Then, because I was curious, I checked Amazon.com and found that they list 123,451 books on the subject of "parenting." Since I was on a roll, I also checked Google, and discovered that they now list 49 million sites referring to parenting!

Well, I've always thought that parenting is a very interesting subject, but I had no idea that there was such an abundance of information out there.  The problem is that there is not much consensus with parenting advice, and so much of the advice is contradictory.  That is probably inevitable, because being a human being is an experience full of contradictions (for example: "I want my independence,/I want to be cared for.")  As grown-up human beings who are raising little kid human beings, there are bound to be contradictions too.  A lot of parenting is in teaching children about those contradictions, and how to find the optimal balance.  For instance, "Yes, I want you to be honest with me and feel free to tell me what you really think, and/No, it isn't appropriate to use mean words and a sarcastic tone."

How then, do you sort through your sources of advice?  What can you count on, when you are looking for inspiration, guidance, reassurance, and suggestions?  Granted, giving parenting advice is my profession.  But even my advice has to pass the test of "what will work, what will help you get where you want to go, and what will feel right for you and your children?"

After more than 30 years of reading parenting materials, here is what I personally recommend:

  • Look for BALANCE.  For instance, of course children need affection.  But unlimited affection has to be balanced with other good things, such as boundaries, limits, and encouragement to cooperate and contribute.
  • Look for RESEARCH.  The 20th century was a golden era for launching real research into early childhood development, learning, and behavior.  As with any new science, there was some research that went wrong (for example, the terrible idea that "cold mothers" were responsible for children's delinquency and schizophrenia.)  But, science has a wonderful way of checking, rechecking, and correcting as it goes along.
  • Look for an approach that GROWS WITH THE CHILD.  For example, children need discipline, because no one thrives when there is chaos and anarchy.  But the discipline style that works with a 2 year old will seem simplistic to a 9 year old and insulting to a 12 year old.  Parents need to find a way to use an evolving type of discipline that teaches children how to develop their own sense of self-discipline and responsibility.
  • Look for an approach that gives EQUAL RESPECT TO ALL.   Some parenting approaches put the parents, and only the parents, in charge.  That kind of parental autocracy is disrespectful, and eventually insulting, to children.  Other approaches make the children, and their needs, the #1 priority.  Children who grow up learning that their concerns and wishes are the most important will have a hard time learning how to live cooperatively with others.  Fortunately, there are more reasonable parenting approaches that emphasize that everyone in the family is worthy of respect, regardless of how big or small, how old or young, they are. When respect is shared equally among all family members, children learn that their wishes and needs are important, and will be considered, but that they will also have to learn how to play fair and take their turn.  When parents set a tone of equal respect in the family, they can model self-respect and ask for reasonable respect, on the basis of courtesy and fairness, not authority and control.
  • Finally, STAY CURIOUS AND OPEN TO LEARNING.  The only thing predictable about children and family life is that it is always changing. What seems like a burning issue today may well be only a funny story in a year or two.  We see children growing and learning before our eyes, but we parents are also growing and learning.  Often it takes a lot of practice and intention to really "use" what we "know."  I believe that one of the greatest gifts of parenting is how it challenges us to grow as individuals.  Curiosity and learning opens us up to celebrate that gift