As a parent, giving advice to other parents is a tricky thing. Some people are extremely passionate about their own particular style of parenting and take strong issue with people who don’t wholeheartedly agree with them. Parenting has become a cautious subject, much like politics or religion and while everyone has the right to discuss their point of view on those subjects, everyone else has an equal right to disagree. You really have to be careful when talking about parenting. Even more so now that there are more and more men taking a very visible presence in the upbringing of the children. I’m in no way implying that fathers of previous generations had no tangible role with their kids, what I’m saying is that lately dads are making a stand against the idea that mothers make all the choices for the children. Sadly there are still negative stereotypes flying around insisting that the majority of men have no clue how to change a diaper or simply take a child for a walk.
I guess then, it might be a little surprising that on occasion people will ask for my advice on parenting topics. I really do welcome questions from people looking for my honest answer and not just some form of permission to continue doing whatever they are already doing. See, I’m not one to interject my opinion without question, and yes, I can see the irony in the fact that I have a blog filled with unsolicited opinions. This is different though. Out in public I don’t just flash my ID card and announce that I’m from the dad life blog – let me tell you the things I feel you are messing up with your kids. I really am happy to give advice when asked, but I also be sure to include the warning that kids are not a one way street. There’s a lot of paths to choose from, and it is gonna stay that way for their whole life. I can only offer people my side of things.
So what really bothers me is when I say something which in turn becomes true for the person and they act surprised. As if, “How could he possibly have been right? He hasn’t bought a new shirt in like five years, what the heck could he possibly know?”
Short example – I’ve told at least four couples that kids often force you to withdraw a little from the outside world, at least at the beginning. This can be as small as an almost pointlessly quick visit to a friend’s house just to have that quick connection with another adult. On the other hand, I sometimes feel trapped in the house. I’m not someone who takes my appearance too seriously, but on those rare occasions that Melissa and I try to fancy up a bit, I have a few options in the closet. I went camping this past weekend and knowing that it was gonna be a bit cold at night I needed to get to my jackets. They are in the farthest area away from the closet door which means I walked past my small collection of “nicer” shirts. THEY ARE DUSTY! I haven’t needed to upgrade beyond tee shirt in such a long time that my fancy button-up shirts are a worse option due to DUST! So again, telling someone that it gets lonely and I’m obviously around so please come over when you need some company, it’ll be good for both of us; only to hear those people say to me, “Wow, I haven’t seen anyone in so long. I wish there was someone a bit more on my schedule that I could hang out with during the day. Do you know what I mean guy with dust covered suit?” Well it’s a little sad.
Not everything with children is absolute, but there are certainly things that tend to echo for everyone. When our due date for William (our first) was approaching people often said things to us that were completely untrue. I heard many tales that painted a picture of the first few months as living in some dark dungeon that smells of poop and vomit. The newborn will scream, peeling the paint from your walls and causing such vibrations that your hair simply falls from your body like the first snow in winter. This sound will become trapped in your ears, a prisoner for eternity as you struggle against the will of god to sleep. As the days turn into months, your sleepless body will become fat and weak till one morning you finally emerge from your home, squinting as sun flashes against your eyes. As you raise your arm in hopeful victory, a majestic hawk will welcome you back to the world by defecating on your shoe and hat….and you will be a parent. My approach to advice has been more realistic, I hope.
Let me put it this way – In this forum, people need to walk the line between truth and entertainment, and that’s not to say that the truth is not entertaining at times. What I mean is when it comes to blogs, there’s often necessary fluff to a post. This is not a twitter feed and 140 characters just will not cut it. I can’t am not interested in putting up a bunch of posts with one or two sentences that read like, “What’s with these kids pooping all the time, am I right people? Meh! #TheDadLife”
I try to do my best to keep things honest when answering a question or concern about parenting, but perhaps the simple and truthful method just takes people off-guard these days. So in your own lives you might try something different to get your ideas across. Internet meme? Rewrite the lyrics to a popular song and sing it to the person? Flash mob your answer somehow? Maybe something elaborate like having an office building spell out your answer one letter at a time using the lights in the windows to create each letter.
In my experience, the direct approach to advice seems to be largely ineffective.