Has it ever struck you as rather odd that parents are so forthcoming with well-intended advice on parenting, but so reluctant to question their own parenting habits? I’ve fallen for that trap many times myself, until this idea occurred to me. Why do we tend to take other people’s parenting advice much less willingly than we tend to dish our own philosophy to others?
After all, if we assume that most people would benefit from what we’ve learned from our experiences with our 2-year-old boy, we should also be ready to accept that other parents feel the same way about their own experiences.
Here is one hypothesis I’ve come up with: we don’t like parenting advice because we interpret it as a criticism of our best efforts. After all, I’ll be the first to concede that most parents do the very best they know how with their children (even though doing the best we know how isn’t always the best we can!), so it’s quite natural that a piece of advice would carry the hidden message that we haven’t really done our best, that we have failed in some way that is obvious to others but concealed to us. Understandably so, that doesn’t feel very nice. Fortunately, we don’t need to jump to that conclusion.
You see, receiving feedback, criticism, or advice on parenting never needs to be interpreted as a personal attack against our past efforts, even in the rare cases when this was the intent behind the words. Good parents aren’t those that always make the best possible decisions for their children (i.e. the mythical perfect parent), but those who are willing to acknowledge their mistakes, learn from them, and try to do better, on a daily (or even hourly!) basis.
We are quite fond of excusing our mistakes by saying that we’re not perfect and that all parents make mistakes, but these are vague, blanket statements that everyone nods to without trying to apply to specific situations. When you get down to specific decisions that were made while trying to rear children, it’s extremely difficult for parents to admit that a specific decision was, in fact, a mistake, even when the outcomes were clearly negative. This may come from our culture, which views all mistakes as terrible things that must be avoided, punished, or swept swiftly under the rug. Unfortunately, it prevents us from learning, and avoiding the same pitfalls in the future.
I tend to be cautious when I talk about our parenting philosophy and practices, for at least three reasons:
- I don’t want to sound like I’m criticising what other parents are already doing
- I think that few parents are ready to accept our ideas, so a gradual, tactful approach is needed
- We may be completely or partially wrong about the effects of our parenting on our children in the long term. We don’t think we are completely wrong, but we’re happy to concede that some of our current ideas are incorrect or at least slightly off the mark
I would love to have an open discussion on parenting, on this blog or in person with some of my friends who are interested in parenting. However, before this happens, all participants need to be open-minded, honest, and willing to re-consider conventional wisdom (like controlled crying, time-out, or expecting 3-year-olds to sit quietly for 2 hours at a stretch, or teenagers to memorise endless lists of meaningless facts…), while resisting the urge to feel insulted by the notion that using some of these parenting methods is actually harmful to their relationship with their children.
I sincerely hope that such a forum can happen in the future. Right now it seems a bit far-off 🙂