May 2010

He Says, She Says: May 2010 - Parenting Advice

Author: Keith Kelson & Jean Wharton | Photographer: Photography By Anne

By Keith Kelson

Should folks without children give advice to those who have them? I say yes. People without kids absolutely have the right to share their opinions on child-rearing. They had parents, too you know. But there are some people with kids who feel if you’re not a parent, you have no idea what it’s like to rear a child. It wouldn’t be so bad if they said something along the lines of, “Thank you. You’ve given me something to think about.” But more often than not, they just drop the hammer on the person like they’re some alien life form that has no experience dealing with humans.

Now, I’m not saying that people without children are the absolute authority in the field of parenting. But you can’t ignore the fact that they have life experiences that do give them insight on parenting. Everyone has had experience with parenting, whether they were the parent or the kid being parented.

Why, I remember being spanked by my mom after having way too much fun in church one Sunday. I have to mention that my late mother was a spanking artiste. The belt moved so fast it literally became invisible to the naked eye. It was like she was spanking you with air. Anyway, I had managed to sneak my GI Joe action figure out of the house with me that day. He had authentic “Kung Fu grip” which was one of the most coveted features an action figure could have back in the 1970s. While no one knew what this Kung Fu grip actually did, the action figures flew off shelves of department stores.

My mom sang in the choir, and unlike some other moms, she wouldn’t give you three strikes. You got one strike if you were lucky, and if you decided to tempt fate and seek a second strike…well, you were gonna get a world-class spanking. Like the one I got that afternoon. People still talk about it to this day; it was the Haley’s Comet of spankings.

My advice to parents? Make sure that your son leaves his GI Joe action figure with realistic Kung Fu grip at home. Stop by and use one of those x-ray machines at an airport if you have to, ensuring that the kid is clean. He will find an action figure more interesting than the sermon—trust me when I say that. Fewer distractions for a small, rambunctious boy in church will mean fewer spankings for him.

My mom pointed out after my sister and I were adults that she hated to spank us, but she was raised by my grandparents not to spare the rod. Given the number of spankings I got as kid, it does comfort me to know that my mom really was doing it because she loved us. My sister and I turned out okay, so I guess all those times my bottom got tanned made it worth it. Still, I can’t help but wonder what my life would have been like had I been allowed to master my action figure’s Kung Fu grip that Sunday, but I digress…

Having kids doesn’t automatically mean you are making good parenting decisions. A nurturing personality, patience and understanding are traits a whole lot of people without children possess. You’re a parent? Hey that’s wonderful, but don’t act like you’re a genius because you’ve changed a diaper or two. We all need to listen to helpful, constructive criticisms from time to time. In many scenarios throughout life, the person observing from the outside has a clearer, unbiased view of what’s going on than the person embroiled in the situation.

What’s always irked me is how elitist some parents are. They’re more than willing to take the parenting advice of some childless yahoo on Oprah with a Ph.D from an Ivy League school, completely ignoring that said expert also hasn’t reproduced or raised any children. But I guess if they made it on Oprah, they must know what they’re talking about, right? Hey, Oprah doesn’t have any kids, now does she? But she sure does have loads and loads of experts on her show giving parenting advice. You don’t see any topics on Internet message boards complaining about how Oprah being childless means she should mind her own beeswax when it comes to giving parents advice.

I really don’t see the harm in listening to someone’s advice. As long as the person giving it isn’t peppering you with a daily “Here’s what I would do” parenting tip, take their advice with a grain of salt and keep on trucking. Know that, in the long run, you’ll be able to point out that it was taking their parenting tips that caused Junior to wind up on America’s Most Wanted.

If you have a friend who’s always giving you handy parenting tips, introduce her to someone so she can get married and start a family of her own. Do it today. The sooner your friend has kids of her own, the sooner you can repay her by sharing your parenting experiences and giving her friendly advice.

Also, remember never to be available to babysit. Nothing beats giving good, sound parenting advice and never being available to watch the kids of a friend. (I’m kidding, of course.)

Happy Mother’s Day to all the CH2 readers out there.


By Jean Wharton

As any follower of this column will tell you, I have little trouble stating my opinion, analyzing an issue or debating a point of view. On this topic of parenting advice, especially if you don’t have children of your own, I have a few thoughts to share, but it is important to point out some facts:

I am a woman, obviously.

I am a teacher, proudly.

I am not a mother, yet.

Professionally speaking, I have dispensed parenting advice based on my knowledge as a teacher, my observations of the child and my relationship with the parent. I have answered questions for moms and dads about eating habits, bedtime rituals and sibling rivalry. Many of the questions parents ask me are far out of the realm of the classroom, but I have absolutely zero hesitation advising parents when they seek my counsel. My role as a Montessori teacher is an essential pillar of my identity. I can help a parent by sharing insights or stories of how their child behaves at school that may translate to their home life.

My role as a teacher puts me in a sticky situation with parents who aren’t part of my school—friends, acquaintances, friends-of-friends. Knowing that I’m a teacher, sometimes parents test the waters with me. They ask with bated breath, “Can I run something by you about my son/daughter?” just to see what my professional opinion might be. When they don’t like what I have to say, they can discredit it because a) I am not a parent and b) I am not their child’s teacher. This often leads me to ask (to myself or out loud), “WHY did you ask?!” When advice is solicited, the seeker should digest it and either save it in their mental files, put it to use or discard it altogether. The giver of well-meaning counsel is only doing what has been asked of him/her.

That being said, I refer back to the previously stated fact that I am a woman. Women do not like unsolicited advice—even when it comes from other women, but especially when it comes from men. We don’t like people to impose their views or ideas on us without explicit request. We like to talk things out, argue both sides and gather information; but until we need to solve a declared problem, we aren’t asking for help. Now add to that the fact that mothers are a unique breed of women, evolutionally enabled with protective instincts for their young. You mess with Momma’s way of doing things for her cubs, and you’ll be sorry.

Because we (and by “we” I mean we humans) had the shared experience of being a child, we translate into sharing certain universal truths about childrearing. While numerous commonalities do exist in the vast varieties of human lives, no one is the same and no one of us has all the answers. Just because you were a child doesn’t mean you know how to raise one (especially someone else’s).

A dear friend of mine is doing an excellent job as a first-time parent (in my unbiased opinion) and has the best rebuttal to those offering unsolicited advice about her baby, now nearly 18 months old. She politely thanks them for their well-meant counsel on breast feeding, diaper cream or Mommy & Me music. Then she says, “I know how to take care of just this one person; I’d be a lousy mom to anyone else.”

Again and again, it’s the unsure and under-confident women who rear their weak heads by asking for advice against all better logic and from all the wrong people. Women who seek approval and acceptance from outside sources, rather than from within. Those out there playing into the stereotypes of helpless, damsel in distress. When this sub-culture of women have babies, they approach motherhood with much the same tentativeness as anything else in their lives. An unsteady mother seeking advice is going to keep seeking and seeking and seeking without resolve about the parenting decisions she must make.

The best parenting advice I can offer is to be logical. Apply common sense. Trust your instincts. Doctors, psychologist and therapist can and do help, but they can and do offer fear, conditioning parents, especially moms, to second guess their gut. Get to know your children. That sounds silly, but if you’re making decisions for your children based on what worked for another child in another family, you most likely will be disappointed.

Raise a strong, brave and confident daughter and she, in return, will do the same for her daughters and sons. Happy Mother’s Day!

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