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The Best Parenting Advice Ever

Photo by Bjorn HermansThe moment you fall pregnant with your first child, it starts. The advice. Advice on feeding and burping and sleeping routines. Advice on discipline and suitable activities and schooling. Advice on everything that may or may not ever come up as a parent.

Some of the advice is welcome. Some of the advice is solicited. But a lot of the advice is thrust on you whether you want it or not.

(My personal favourite type is the advice offered by random strangers in the supermarket who also feel they have a constitutional right to touch a pregnant woman’s belly without asking first.)

In the six years since my first pregnancy, I’ve received hundreds of pieces of parenting advice — some useful, some profound, and some downright stupid. So it’s somewhat ironic that the best parenting advice I ever received was neither advice nor about parenting.

It was a story about a cat.

A family came home from the pet shop with a brand new kitten. They played with it, helped it get settled in, and then left it to explore the house. A few hours later, they heard a strange sound — almost like something tearing.

Dad followed the sound. The new kitten was sharpening his claws on the back of the couch. “No you don’t!” he said. “There’s no using the furniture as a scratching pole!” Then he picked up the kitten and put it outside.

“That’ll teach him,” Dad said.

And it certainly did. To this day, the cat scratches the back of the couch every time he wants to go outside.

Children are a lot like animals — they learn a lot more from what you DO than from what you SAY.

Make sure you’re teaching your children what you think you’re teaching your children.

Because a twenty minute lecture on the importance of reading means nothing if they never see you pick up a book.

 

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Parenting is a Battlefield

My husband and I faced each other across the lounge room. My muscles were tense and I could feel the burn in my cheeks. “Well, what do you think we should do?” I demanded.

“Look,” my husband began. His voice was raised, but he was holding himself back from shouting. “It’s his end of school trip. I’ll just give him the money.”

“What do you mean you’ll ‘just give him the money’?” My temperature was rising by the moment. “He had the money. He chose to spend it on other things. If you give him more, what does it teach him?”

“It teaches him that he can come to me when he has problems!”

I huffed in frustration. “No, it teaches him that he can act irresponsibly and you’ll bail him out! What are you going to do when he spends all his money on beer? Are you going to pay his rent for him, too?”

“Of course!” He was almost yelling now. “Wouldn’t you?”

My hands were shaking. So was the rest of my body. I took a deep breath and tried to calm down. My husband did the same. Once we’d both composed ourselves, I spoke up. “Look, the point is that we have a responsibility to teach him how to handle money. If we tell him he needs to save his money for his high school graduation trip and he spends it on other things, we can’t just give him more money. Yes, it sucks that he’ll miss out. But he needs to learn to be responsible.”

My husband was speaking calmly; reasonably. “It’s his end of school trip. It’s a big deal. If he misses out on it, he’ll regret it for the rest of his life. We can’t tell him he’s not allowed to go just because we don’t want to give him the money.”

“It’s not about whether we want to give him the money,” I answered. My new-found calm was rapidly deteriorating. “It’s about teaching him to be responsible.” I forced myself to take a deep breath. “Look, the situation probably won’t even come up. I’m sure he won’t spend his money on other things anyway.”

We stared at each other for a minute. Maybe two. Then my husband said, “Let’s just… drop it. Okay?”

“Okay,” I said.

And we went our separate ways for a time. We could afford to do that. It’s not like our son was graduating high school the next day. In fact, he wasn’t graduating from anything any time soon. He was barely a year old, and happily sleeping the sleep of a contented toddler in his bedroom.

If you’re not a parent, you may be wondering at this point why we were even arguing.

But if you are a parent, you understand. When you’re co-parenting children, you argue about everything. All the time. Even the hypothetical stuff. Especially the hypothetical stuff.

No one tells you that before you sign on the dotted line. No one warns you. No one says, “Now that the two of you are solely responsible for the health, happiness and wellbeing of this little person, you will discover that you have differing opinions on almost every aspect of child-rearing and family life. Be prepared to argue your point of view with a passion and intensity you didn’t even know you could feel.”

Let me just clarify that.

You probably don’t have differing opinions on the big stuff. (At least, my husband and I don’t.) When it’s a question of values and beliefs, you’re probably pretty well aligned — or, at the very least, you’ve discussed how your differences will be managed. No, the differing opinions are with the “little” things. The everyday things. The things that, it turns out, are much bigger than the big stuff.

Do the children have to stay at the dinner table until everyone’s finished eating, or can they be excused when they’re finished? Do the children have a set bedtime or do they go to bed when they’re tired? How is pocket money handled? How old do they have to be before they can play outside by themselves? Or cross the road alone? Or travel on public transport?

Sometimes you won’t argue. Sometimes you’ll be astonished to find you share the same opinion. But those times will feel rarer than hens’ teeth. Embrace them when you can. And when you don’t agree? Find a way to compromise. Just remember that you’re both arguing from a point of love. You’re all on the journey of life together, and somehow you will find a way to make it work.

And that’s what really matters.

Hand in Hand

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Filed under Life With Kids, Opinion