Originally published as How Dare You! in the Man’s Point of View column in the August edition of South Carolina Woman magazine…
Parenting advice doesn’t start when you have kids. It starts much earlier, like maybe when you are born. Tired of your screaming as a baby, your parents might have declared, “Wait till you have kids and they keep you up all night.” Or as a teenager sulking over a punishment you didn’t agree with, they might scream out, “Wait till you have kids. You’ll do the same thing.” The advice is always thrown out like some kind of curse.
As time goes by, you form your own opinions about how you’ll raise your own future children. You might see a family in the mall with a bevy of monster-children and vow that your kids will never act that way. You might even offer your own unsolicited advice. Maybe something like, “You know, a good switch should take care of that.”
Though unsolicited parenting advice is thrown at you in the pre-parenting stage of your life, it will take a much more serious and darker tone once you bring progeny into the world. It’s much more important now to the people in your life that you raise your kids exactly as they want you to. You’re no longer contemplating mini-me’s. Now you’ve gone and created living breathing miniature human beings that everyone is convinced you’re going to corrupt, injure, or incinerate.
I’ve done pretty well taking this advice for many years. Much was given. Some was ignored and some accepted. There was the occasional terse exchange or minor problem that was dealt with in one way or another. Recently, though, it seems as if the very sovereignty of parenthood is under attack. There have been several incidents worldwide and in my own life that have drawn armchair parents out in droves and given them voices.
In June of this year 13-year-old Jordan Romero attempted a summit climb of Mt. Everest. If successful he would set a record as the youngest person to climb the tallest mountain in the world. Before he ever set foot on the mountain, the criticism and advice began in the media. In the end, accompanied by his dad, he stood at 29,035 feet, the top of the world, and called his mom on a satellite phone. His parents not only allowed him to train for and make the climb, but encouraged and enabled his dream. They did this despite all criticism. In an effort to join the pseudo-parenting fray and give heed to advice from the media, China created new regulations that now restricts climbers to a minimum of 18 years of age.
More recently, 16-year-old Abby Sunderland set sail in an effort to voyage solo around the world. In the middle of the Indian Ocean she encountered storms that broke the mast on her ship and destroyed her communications capability. After several days of searching she was rescued safe and sound. The outcry that began at the inauguration of her voyage only intensified with the latest development. Despite the criticism her parents gave their blessing on the trip and did their best to help with the voyage.
Recently a family member of mine launched a direct attack on my sovereignty as a parent. The problem this person had with my wife and I was that we took our boys to see a movie that she didn’t approve of. She opened an exchange with us in a very public way by criticizing my decision on Facebook. Then followed an interesting exchange of e-mails that culminated with me making it more than clear that my rights and actions as a parent are none of her business and not open for discussion.
Now, no one is perfect, especially as a parent. I’ve made more mistakes as a parent than in any other single area in my life. Parenting is a learning experience in which most of our education is by way of mistakes made. Think of it like doctors who practice their profession and are always learning. The thing about parenting is that we don’t need all those mistakes pointed out to us or thrown in our faces. That’s for the actual mistakes. Most unsolicited parenting advice comes about because of perceived mistakes, things you didn’t actually do wrong but that others don’t agree with.
As a general rule, unsolicited parenting advice is never welcome. Unless parents are doing something recklessly dangerous or detrimental to their kids, there’s no reason for someone else to say anything. The two adventures mentioned, mountain climbing and sailing, are not recklessly dangerous. They were planned calculated choices that parents and children made together.
If a situation ever occurs in which you feel it necessary to offer unsolicited advice, do it right. Doing it the wrong way, as in my situation, can cause a rift in an otherwise healthy relationship. Offer advice, not criticism. Do it in a loving manner. Don’t overdo it and don’t make demands. It’s a tricky thing, but it can be done right.
In case anyone’s interested, I have two boys. They’re too young to climb Everest or attempt trans-oceanic voyages right now. If they decide to later though, I’ll support them. I’ll help them find the right training. I’ll help them fund their goals. But I will not kill their dreams because someone else thinks their idea of parenting is better than mine.