I maintain that one of the hardest parts of being a young parent is the flood of unsolicited advice. Now that my kids are older (let’s face it, I am older too), I don’t get a lot of parenting tips. Or maybe I do, and I have just gotten good at tuning the advice out. When I was a young mom , it felt like every time I opened my eyes I was bombarded with articles, Facebook posts, well-meaning strangers, friends and family, all telling me the right way to be a good mom. Heck, it started even before I had kids. During my first pregnancy, I was working as a trainer at a gym. I was helping a lady slightly older than me, and she asked when I was due. I told her I only had a few weeks left. She smiled so sweetly for a moment… and then she said, “Just so you know, you are going to hate it. You will act like a bitch, your husband will hate you. You will hate you. You won’t want sex. You won’t want him to touch you. For the first few months you will be miserable (I wasn’t. The first three months of parenthood were the best three months of my life).” This wasn’t even advice. It was just mean. But it was an introduction to what I would experience for a few years to come. The advice I saw in my young mom years, no matter how well-meaning, just left me with a feeling of falling short. A feeling that I wasn’t doing enough. A feeling that what I was doing was totally wrong. It was disheartening. It wasn’t just parenting advice that got me bogged down. It was also dieting and workout advice, advice on how to set and maintain goals. Advice on how to love my husband (will approach all of this in a post to come). Advice on how to keep a home. It all felt overwhelming. And impossible.
The older I get, the more I appreciate that advice is subjective.
I heard my mom say once that she potty trained us all at two years of age. And that she would get pretty grumpy if we didn’t pick up on it right away. To be clear, my mom never said she thought I should do the same with my kids. But as a young mom, I thought I was doing it wrong if I didn’t take the same approach. So when my oldest turned two, I started the grueling process of getting her to pee in the toilet. I remember taking her little toddler toilet with me in the mini van to run errands. I would ask her every 15 minutes if she needed to pee, fully prepared to stop at the side of the road if she required it. It was a fruitless effort. She wasn’t getting it. There were so many “accidents” during this period, I was about ready to lose my mind. Grocery shopping was a nightmare. If at any point she indicated she needed to go, I would abandon the shopping cart and take her into the public restroom, along with her baby sister. Usually she would just look around, fascinated with the auto-flush toilets, and then tell me she was done. This would happen maybe three or four times during a shopping trip, until inevitably she would pee her pants. I would have to go out to the car to get her backup pants and undies (why not bring them with me to start? I am a shameless optimist), take her back to the restroom to change, and then resume our shopping. One time, we were gone so long that an employee assumed our cart was abandoned and put the groceries away. The grocery shopping was pretty much complete at that point. I had to start all over. This experience may have been one of the most disheartening moments of my young mom life.
It’s clear to me now, as a wise and mature older mom, that Rachel wasn’t ready for potty training. I would like to go back and give the young mom that I was some advice that she most definitely wouldn’t take. I would tell her “Relax and breathe. She is not going to end up in kindergarten with diapers on. Let it go.”
Things came to a head shortly after my sister Sarah had her fourth little baby, Maya (one of my favorite children to this day). I took Rachel and Lilly to visit the baby, and offered to stay for a while and watch the four kids so Sarah could go get herself some food. I was pregnant with Carson at the time, and quite overwhelmed. Which is no excuse for what I did next. It felt like time for Rachel to use the bathroom, so I took her in. She sat on the toilet and wouldn’t go. I did not have it in me to change her out of pee clothes again. I lost my temper. I screamed at her over and over again to “just go!” She was crying, I was sweaty and angry. And then Sarah walked into the bathroom. Home much sooner than I expected. What a sight I was. To her credit, she didn’t say anything. I was mortified. To this day, it is one of my most shameful parenting moments. I did damage to that child by insisting she developed a key life skill on my terms. I regret it. So my advice to all of you young parents is, they aren’t fully potty trained until they can go, flush, wipe and wash on their own. So until they are old enough to do these things, don’t bother. Or do what you want. It might be bad advice.
I also got it in my head that pacifiers were a crutch, and that a toddler who still relied on one was obscene. Bad for their teeth and all that. I took Rachel’s away at 12 months. Lilly and Carson found their thumbs pretty much right away, and I thought that was great, since it solved the whole taking the pacie away problem. Both of them sucked their thumbs way beyond their toddler years. Talk about bad teeth. I would have been better off insisting they had a pacifier. When Emmy came around, I was tired. I had four kids under the age of six, and I was barely coping. Emmy loved her pacifier, and for all I cared she could keep it until college if it meant I got a good night’s sleep. She gave it up pretty easily around her third birthday. Yeah, she needs braces… but pretty much all kids do. So my advice to all of you young parents is, let them have that pacifier. Even if it means your kids end up with buck teeth. Chances are they will need braces either way. For the love of God don’t call it a binki (I have my standards). This might be bad advice.
There’s a myriad of other controversial topics when it comes to parenting. Co-sleeping? It’s not for me, but if it creates harmony for you and your family, do it! Home school or public? Or charter school since the options are endless these days. I say whatever works for you is the right choice. I have met a lot of strange home-schooled kids. But the public school kids are just as weird, so don’t overthink it. Kids are just weird all around. You want to do a natural birth? Well that is beautiful, and good for you. You want all the drugs so you don’t feel a thing? That’s pretty great too. Screen time is bad, but a well-rested parent is good. So if you need to use the iPad in order to get some down-time, that seems ok. Don’t let them watch violent shows. But violence is better than sexual content. Right? Or just let them watch whatever. Do what you need to survive. It’s best that one parent stays at home so your kids are not raised by strangers. But maybe staying at home with your kids makes you feel unfulfilled. Which isn’t good for your kids either. And if you don’t put them in daycare, how will they socialize? My advice to all of you young parents is, do what works best for you. Stick to it, and shut out the noise that’s telling you you are doing it wrong. It might be bad advice.
If I were to give one bit of legitimate advice it would be this. Be like my oldest sister Summer. I have modeled a lot of my parenting on hers. She loves her children fiercely. And she has made a great effort to prioritize them. All five of them are amazing individuals. I spent a lot of time at her house as a young adult before my kid days. Just observing. Learning. As a demonstration of my sister’s unparalleled parenting skills, I will try and tell this story as accurately as possible. My dad came to visit Summer some years back, when Summer’s kids were pretty little. The house was in disarray, and everyone was dressed up as pirates. Summer included. My sweet nephew Owen told papa “You know, my mom is tougher than a boat full of pirates!” And he truly believed it. She IS tougher than a boat full of pirates. And the best kind of mom. One that recognizes that her biggest priority is not a clean house, or a career, or anything else. Not pacifiers, not fast food, not charter schools. Her biggest priority is her children. Cultivating their interests, being there for them, making sure they feel loved on their terms. I have tried so hard to do the same with my precious children. I want them to believe I am tougher than a boat full of pirates. And that I would do anything for them. Be more like Summer. This is good advice.
Bottom line. Happy parents make happy children. So whatever you need to do to remain a happy parent is good for your children. As long as you make sure they feel loved and safe, you are doing a great job. Don’t overthink it. Do what feels right. Disclaimer… this may be bad advice.