When I was little, there was an unwritten rule at the playground that if someone else’s mom told me to do (or not do) something, I listened. There was no argument, no backlash from my own parents over someone else disciplining their child, and in fact I think my mom welcomed the help. She couldn’t be everywhere, but she knew that other responsible adults would keep me in check if necessary. Whatever happened to that sense of community mothering?
The famous pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock used to tell parents, “Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.” It seems that today’s parents have taken that advice a step further, behaving as if they can only trust themselves. With the emergence of thousands of ‘child rearing experts’ and the identification of distinct ‘parenting styles’, the parenting network of my youth seems to have gone the way of the pay phone. It’s as though we think of the job of raising our children as a unique position, and anyone offering advice couldn’t possibly understand what’s involved. While it’s true that we are the best suited for raising our own kids, what is so terrible about sharing the load by giving and getting help from other parents?
Recently I was with my family, eating lunch at an outdoor café, and a couple with a baby was seated near us. At one point, I overheard the mother tell a table full of single people about what a sweet disposition their 10-month-old daughter has, but that she doesn’t sleep well at night, and that they hadn’t slept since she was born. The young people nodded sympathetically, but had no advice to offer and so went back to their meal. I continued to watch the couple feed the baby and play with her. As it approached 2pm, the baby had eaten and was now rubbing her eyes and getting fussy, but mom and dad’s lunch had just been served. I thought back to when Jacob was that age. He would nap from 10am-noon, again from 2-4pm every day, and then for 12 hours every night, without fail. This baby was displaying the classic signs of being ready for a nap, and at just the right time of day, yet her parents kept trying to soothe her while they ate, offering her toys and more food as she remained in her high chair.
My voice of experience told me, “The reason she doesn’t sleep at night is because she doesn’t nap during the day and is overtired by bedtime!” I had gone through the same thing with Jacob until his pediatrician told me of the importance of nap scheduling. It was the best advice I had ever gotten. Why, then, did I hesitate to approach these parents with information that could have made their whole family much happier?
In an age where babies wear T-shirts that say, “Please resist the urge to give advice; my parents are doing a great job”, and the topic of how parents should deal with unsolicited advice is almost as hot as the latest Harry Potter book, it is no wonder I held my tongue. On the one hand, I felt that by telling a group of strangers about their problem, these parents were seeking help. But on the other hand, look at any of the popular “Nanny” shows where parents are shamed for not knowing any better, and it’s no wonder we don’t welcome advice. Today’s “help” is often perceived as criticism, and no one wants to be told they’re doing something wrong as a parent.
If you type “mother support group” into your Internet search engine, you’ll be rewarded with about 93,000,000 results. This tells us two things: There are lots of mothers out there who need support, and plenty who are ready to support them. For as long as there have been parents, there have been networks for helping one another, and whether this network was made up of family, neighbors or friends was irrelevant. The phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child” did not come about yesterday, and probably would not be coined today. But the sentiment is still true, as the proliferation of millions of parent-support websites demonstrates.
We all need peers upon whom we can rely in this business of parenting. After all, parenting is a job. In the business world, we have experts, go-to people and resources that we tap when we need help and information. Much as we may hate to admit it, parenting is no different. Knowledge is power; if we have it, whether through experience, extensive reading or instinct, we should be sharing, not wielding it, and welcoming rather than shunning it. Trusted resources are the most valued, of course. But even the kindness of strangers can be of great help, as long as we keep an open mind when receiving advice, and take it for what it’s worth, rather than as criticism.
Just as we teach our children to ask questions and be open to new information, as parents we must do the same. It’s not easy. Unlike other jobs, parenting carries with it a personal, emotional connection. Any suggestion of how I can do a better job as a mother doesn’t feel like it’s about my skill level, but about me. It took me a while to separate my ego from my role as a mom. But I recognize now that in my relationship with my children, I have a responsibility to learn as they grow, just as they do.
This month, we have been warmly welcomed to Rockland County by important members of the community, and we look forward to serving the families of Rockland. Personally, I am thrilled to be a part of Rockland Parent magazine and to be able to share pertinent, valuable information with our readers. My biggest wish is that we will become a trusted resource for Rockland families so that, if nothing else, they can sleep a little better at night.