A lot of parenting advice is bad advice. It’s not just that standards and societal norms change over time, it’s also that when something works for one parent and one child, that one parent tends to see their method as the “right” way or the best way—or even the only way. But for every parent who would never let their child “cry it out,” there is a parent who swears it was the only way to get their child to sleep. As such, a lot of advice that new parents receive is advice for the best way to raise specific children who are not their own kids.
Yesterday, we talked about the worst parenting advice we’ve ever received. However, it’s only fair to acknowledge that although too many people out there wrongly assume they know how to make you a better parent, once in a while, someone does bestow some true words of wisdom on us.
Some of my favorite advice came to me not from a wise older relative but from a magazine I was absentmindedly flipping through when my son was just a couple of weeks old, lying asleep next to me (clearly “sleep when the baby sleeps” wasn’t resonating with me). It said that to be a happy parent and to raise happy kids, we should give parenting 75 percent of our effort. Not one hundred and seventy-five percent—or even 100 percent—but a mere C average, 75 percent.
This epiphany came to me when I was having a miserably difficult time breastfeeding but couldn’t possibly switch to formula, lest I be the terrible mom who cares more about her own comfort and sanity than fighting for the superior nutritious choice for her baby. I was hating the decision I’d made to cloth diaper, but cloth diapering was obviously the more natural choice, so me hating it was irrelevant.
Sure, I’d heard the cliché that every parent has heard over and over again—put your own oxygen mask on first. But our plane wasn’t crashing and these things weren’t an emergency, so it didn’t feel like the advice applied. When the sentiment came to me in this altered state, though—give parenting just 75 percent of your effort—it clicked that the vast majority of the time, the decisions I make as a parent won’t be emergencies. But all the ways I might try to be perfect would take an incremental toll on me until I was a very good mother on paper, but not a real joy to be around.
That advice stuck with me as my son grew older. I didn’t have to be the mom who got down on the floor all the time to play with him; but when I did, I was fully engaged. It’s okay if my kid has eaten a lot of hot dogs in his life; he eats vegetables, too, and sometimes the easier route is the happier route. Not trying to do everything exactly right gives me more time and space to breathe, even without the oxygen mask.
So tell me in the comments: What is the best parenting advice you’ve ever given or received? What poignant guidance stuck with you for years, or what tiny trick made one small corner of parenting easier for you?
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