Joco Opinion

Learning to ignore unsolicited advice

The other night, I was asked an interesting question by my aunt and uncle.

“What’s the hardest part about parenting?”

I didn’t answer, but I did reflect on the question for a few days. Before long, I realized that the hardest part is, predictably, one of my own weakness. Not what others perceive to be my weakness. I have a list of so-called shortcomings that I’m perfectly fine with. I prefer to think of them as “quirks” that don’t work for just everyone, but they fit me like a glove.

But it’s the weaknesses I’m not happy about — those that bother me at night — that become the hardest steps to face in life.

For me, the hardest thing about parenting has been fielding the unsolicited advice that so many other parents have to offer. The ones who have it all figured out. Those whose child-rearing styles are utterly different, often even the opposite, of my own.

There are two types of other parents who I take particular issue with. Those who have kids that they deem, in one way or another, better than my kids.

Usually these people are authoritarian, and have kids who have been taught to always sit up straight, and “yes, sir” and “no, ma’am” their way through life. These parents impose regimented schedules, black-and-white rules, and zero-tolerance. These parents can be oh-so-helpful with their advice that surely, if I’d only apply it correctly, it would whip my kids into tip-top shape.

The other kind of people who really chap my hide have no kids at all. You know, the ones with amazing discipline advice that they’ve never practiced on children of their own. I was a better parent before I had kids, and I do, indeed, understand how easy things can seem from the outside.

The easy answer is to ignore unsolicited advice, of course. To be confident with my own, more loosey-goosey, intuitive, feel-my-way through and roll with what comes my way. Obviously there’s more than one way to cook a goose. Some people stick to the recipe, and others use whatever is in the cabinet that day.

It took me years to develop the ability to shrug off advice that’s perfectly good for them and their kids, but not for our family, pointing that my weakness is not in the parenting choices I make and believe to be good, but in worrying about what others think.

Eventually, I grew a spine, and learned to trust my instincts. I held to my theory that what may appear to be sloppy parenting to some, actually teaches valuable skills of flexibility and self-policing.

It’s been a long road, but I like what I’m seeing in my kids as they blossom. They try to do the right thing because they know why they should, not just to avoid getting in trouble.

The other day, my son made a rude comment to me. He was kidding, just throwing around banter, but it crossed a line that he shouldn’t cross.

“You shouldn’t say that to me, it’s disrespectful,” I told him. Then I added, “If you say things like that, I’m supposed to discipline you, and I don’t feel like going through all that, so just don’t say that kind of thing and save me the trouble, will ya?”

“OK,” he agreed.

Sloppy parenting? Maybe. But he agreed to show me respect — out of mutual respect and the simple desire to get along. And you know what else? I don’t care what anyone else thinks about it.

Reach Overland Park mom Emily Parnell at emily@emilyparnell.com. On Twitter:@emilyJparnell.

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