Monday, January 21, 2013

My simple advice on parenting

I was recently talking to someone who was about to be a first-time dad. We talked about it for a few minutes before he jokingly asked, "So, got any advice?" That got me thinking about what advice I would give to a new parent. I haven't been doing this parenting thing very long myself, and we're still trying to figure out how to do lots of things. But even so, my biggest piece of advice is also very simple:

Don't take anyone's advice.

It sounds silly, but I'm serious. There's something about hearing you're about to be a parent that makes everyone you meet suddenly overflow with advice. And it's all well meaning advice, don't get me wrong. Everyone from your mother to your coworkers, your doctor to your drinking buddies, your child-less friends, to your seasoned grandparents. Don't listen to any of them...at least not right away. Let me explain...


Everything about parenting is up for debate. Despite what your pediatrician may assure you always works, or what your best friend may insist is the only way to do things, it's just not true. Everything from "all kids need milk" to "vaccines are essential" to "don't nurse to sleep" to "you have to leave your kids sometimes" to "let them scream" to "keep them home when they get sick" ...literally all if it has two sides. Most issues with parenting has 10 or 20 sides. Plus, parenting views and values change from generation to generation, so your grandmother may have the best intentions when advising you about what car seat to buy, but she may not know that car seat laws have changed, for example.

Raising children is a hugely important task. The decisions made at the beginning can easily have life-long consequences. It's way to important to do things simply because, "well, that's how my parents did it." Even if you wholeheartedly agree with the way your parents did things and want to model your own parenting after their example, you still owe it to your children to debate these things.

All children are different. So vastly different that what works with one, simply won't work with another. I have had people ask me hypothetical questions about parenting before, like, "what will you when your daughter brings her first boyfriend over?" or "what will you do if you find your kid doing drugs?" or "what would you do if your kid wanted to go to Europe for a semester?"

I answer all of these questions the same way: "It all depends on the child." It sounds like a cop-out answer, but it's true. I believe that responsible parenting means really knowing your child, and making decisions individually based on the situation, the child's age, other life circumstances, etc. Some kids would be emotionally ready to spend a month away from home at age 10. Others not until 20. There's no way to answer questions like that until the time comes.

So all that to say what I started with: don't blindly take anyone's advice. If someone gives you advice, research it! We live in an age where all the world's information is seconds away. If after researching and discussing with your spouse, you decide to take the advice, great! If you decide to reject it, great! You can feel confident in your decision because you made it.

Making the decisions about how to raise children is important. Research everything, even the little decisions. Talk through what is best for your family. Don't take advice simply because you agree with the person giving it. Always make informed decisions. Your children will thank you for it later.

(Thanks to +Shelsy Joseph who contributed to this post)