I have a love/hate relationship with parenting advice. On some days, I read parenting articles and find the information helpful. On other days, I read articles that dole out parenting advice and think, “you’ve got to be kidding me?”
That’s why sarcastic parenting bloggers like Cat and Nat or Sh**ty Mom are so popular. They take the fact that most parenting advice makes us feel terrible about ourselves and turn it into real-life funny stories.
It is helpful sometimes to hear that other people are struggling with the same ridiculous problems that come with parenting.
And especially helpful if it makes you laugh!
One problem with parenting advice is that most of it addresses how to respond to children and problem behaviors. I’ve even written articles like this because they address popular questions like “what can I do when time-out isn’t working?” or “how to stop bribing your child and what to say instead.”
But the truth is, that simply responding to behaviors with some blanket approach doesn’t usually work. So, if some parenting expert says that in order to solve this problem behavior, you should do this thing (insert random advice), then you end up with a good portion of parents who found that helpful, a second portion that found it didn’t work at all or made it worse, and another set that never even tried it.
Random behavior interventions that do not focus on the underlying needs of a child miss the point. It’s like that episode of Teen Mom that we talked about the other day. Monster Spray works pretty well for sleep anxiety, but not for the real issue with adjusting to a new sibling. Great “advice” but it doesn’t address the right problem.
Inevitably, you read an article that is shaming of parents. It says something like, “NEVER EVER EVER DO THIS (insert random parenting advice) or YOUR CHILD IS SCREWED UP FOR LIFE.”
This is especially true when it comes to anything newborn related. Blame the vaccines, blame the sleep training, blame the non-organic fruit snacks…etc. It’s all your fault that your child behaves this way.
A lot of parenting advice makes you feel bad about decisions that you made in the past that you a) can not change now and b) had no idea might or might not have been bad to begin with.
Anything that makes you feel bad about yourself is not good advice. This is another reason why the sarcastic mom bloggers are so popular. They make us feel better about the “terrible” things that we have done by normalizing the fact that we all do things that we are not proud of or that don’t follow the traditional advice.
Another thing about a lot of parenting advice is that when you read it, there is an assumption that there is no room for failure. Even I will recommend to people to “be consistent 100% of the time.” This is insane. No one can do that. I can not do that. And when we read some piece of advice that says “you must do this ALL the time” or “NEVER EVER do this” it becomes challenging as we are set up for failure.
I read articles all the time about the amount of sleep children should get. It’s this insane number that means that elementary school children should basically come home from school and go straight to bed. It doesn’t take into account homework, extracurricular activities, work schedules, baths, or any typical family activity. It is not bad advice though-children who get more and better sleep are at lower risk for ADHD, obesity, and a host of other behaviors. And parents that I work with want their children to get more sleep-but sometimes it just feels unrealistic.
What I have found is that my parenting behaviors decline rapidly when I am stressed, tired, or multi-tasking. I do all the “wrong things” that I teach other people not to do. I make the same mistakes and have the same #momguilt.
But when I am relaxed and have taken good care of myself. Well, at those times, I am pretty much SuperMom. I am unstoppable and a force to be reckoned with.
So, continue reading parenting advice (the information is good, really), but focus first on taking care of yourself. I am not a doctor, but I frequently “prescribe” self care to parents that come to see me who are frazzled, crying or otherwise overwhelmed with difficult behaviors.
Sometimes the best parenting advice is:
Get away from your children for a short period of time.
The truth is that parenting is really hard. Some tools work well one day and not the next. Some parents do all the right things and still have children with challenging behaviors. But, the most effective parents find ways to take good care of themselves first. And having some time to step away actually makes you a much more effective, kind and nurturing parent.
I understand that you might be reading this thinking, “Are you kidding me?” My advice to practice good self care may seem unrealistic if you are actually overwhelmed. You might not have a babysitter, or a supportive spouse, or a network of friends, or a budget for self-care.
But, find a way.
Two minutes of deep breathing, a short walk around the block, a trip to Target by yourself, a good book, or a night out. It can be done. And it, to me, is often more effective than any behavior plan out there.
What can you do for yourself today or this week to keep from emptying your cup?
Jennifer Taylor, LCSW, RPT is an experienced child and family therapist and public speaker who specializes in trauma, ADHD, and conduct problems. Discover more about her diverse clinical background and family. Reach out to Jennifer with questions or comments by emailing at firstname.lastname@example.org
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