Contradictory advice

The post on "mother drive-bys" at Chez Miscarriage is now up to over 300 comments and still growing.  It’s funny and sad and bizarre.

I’ve gotten my share of comments about my parenting, but I’ve never taken them too seriously.  When D was a newborn, we were given two baby books:  What to Expect The First Year and The Baby Book.  These two books agree that you should use a car seat and that breastmilk is the ideal food for babies, and disagree on just about everything else.  This drove me crazy for a few weeks, and then I had the liberating insight that no matter what we did, someone would say we were doing it wrong.  So there was no point in trying to do it perfectly — we just had to do our best and accept that even so, we’d get criticized by strangers (or family) occasionally.

I think that’s the key insight that the miserable stressed-out parents Judith Warner talked to are missing — that no matter how hard you work at it, there’s no such thing as perfect parenting.   If you’re a good parent, you what you think is best, but sometimes your best just isn’t good enough, or what you thought was the best turns out in hindsight to look like a mistake.

There’s a Jewish tradition that you’re supposed to carry a slip of paper with a message in each pocket.  On one side, you carry "You were created in God’s image" and on the other side, you carry "You came from dust, and to dust you shall return."  When you get depressed you look at the first, and when you get cocky you look at the second.

I think the parenting version of this is that on one side you carry the start of Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care: "Relax.  You know more than you think you do," and on the other side you carry the start of Philip Larkin’s This be the verse: "They fuck you up, your mom and dad/ They may not mean to, but they do."

7 Responses to “Contradictory advice”

  1. Elise Says:

    Amen to all of that! What I find amazing and surprising is the sheer number of parents out there who DO think they need to be perfect. I think Judith Warner was writing about real people, even though she did it in a really annoying way, and that’s the sad part, in my opinion. I don’t understand why parents even try to aspire for perfection if we all know that we are only human. Aspiring for very good parenting with a big dose of love, happiness and respect sounds like a much better goal. Those overparenty people are just annoying to me. I don’t even bother with them.

  2. jo(e) Says:

    Oh, I loved this post. You said it so well.
    I’ve never tried to be the perfect parent — and I don’t expect that my kids will turn out perfect either. Isn’t imperfection part of the human condition?

  3. Laura (geekymom) Says:

    I guess there are books about trying to be the perfect human too, but most people brush those off and realize that’s impossible. Why don’t people do the same with parenting? I think because not everyone is a parent and from the outside looking in, they think there’s gotta be a way to do it “right” or “perfectly.” And people who are parents get caught up in that idea because for 9 mos., they’re on the outside too and by the time they’re not, it’s too late, they already think there’s a way to parent perfectly.

  4. giovanna Says:

    You can’t really blame parents for trying to be perfect. That too is part of being human. As a parent, you wish to give the best to your children. You strive for the best, trying at all cost to avoid making the same mistakes your parents (or others) made.
    It is with books like Warner’s or blogs like this and many others, that you realize you can’t be all for everybody. And that’s what makes it great.

  5. Jen Says:

    My big question about parenting is this: why do we all care so much? Why do *I* care so much? Before I had kids I literally did not even see kids around me. Now if I see a child without their coat on I can feel my hackles rise.
    I have never said anything, reminding myself again and again that I don’t have the full story. But why the overreaction? Every day I pass by tons of people doing things I disagree with, things where there’s no chance that more information would make it understandable: egregious littering, driving or parking like idiots, leaving their dogs’ poop on my lawn. I’m annoyed, but I never have to work at remaining silent the way I do with kid issues. What gives?
    Also, what’s with all the energy put into breastfeeding choices? Many of the drive-by comments are about breastfeeding. Why is that such a hot button? I swear I’m beginning to wonder if it’s hormonal.

  6. Suzanne Says:

    I’ve also struggled with my own feelings of adequacy as a parent. I think I’m comfortable enough now that I don’t worry so much about what other people think or what the “experts” say. I still worry that my decisions will somehow harm my children, either now or later on.
    I try not to be too judgmental of other parents and their decisions, but, like Jen stated in her comment, I tend to get upset by what I perceive to be bad parenting decisions. (I don’t speak my mind, though—those “drive by” comments at Chez Miscarriage make me wonder just what the heck motivates people to be so unkind.)

  7. dave.s. Says:

    arrested for breastfeeding!

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