On Saturday mornings and afternoons, my beloved husband takes over the child-rearing duties which enables me to run necessary errands (groceries, dry cleaning, pharmacy runs, etc.) and also to have some time to myself. Because I’m the biggest dork in the universe, I tend to frequent stores selling fabric, art/craft supplies, coffee, and records. (Hey, Entrepreneurs! I would LIVE in a store that sold all of these things under one roof. I’m just sayin’.) But really, any location that offers relative peace and quiet and a chance for me to geek out about some of my favorite things is where I’ll be on any given Saturday.
This past Saturday found me indulging the bibliophile side of my personality at the library. After browsing through some new releases and picking up a variety of interesting-looking novels, I headed straight for the art section looking for something to inspire me to complete the piece I’m currently working on. Because I’m a total bookwhore, I couldn’t help glancing at the shelved tomes on the way there. In the parenting section, which I usually avoid like the plague, I spied a book called . I hurried past, thinking, “My kids are happy, right?” I paused. Hmmm. Are they? Really? “Crap,” I thought to myself while pivoting on the spot, “I’d better read this book just to make sure.”
Such is the seductive power of so-called self help books. Damn you, Random Author with no extra letters after your name to denote a graduate degree! You have no special training in child psychology or a similar field, and are, therefore, no better qualified to write such a book than I am. You may not even have children! But I am compelled to pick up your book nonetheless. The title is written in a decent font, so you were at least smart enough to hire a qualified graphic designer. Dare I judge a book by its cover? Might you have some insights after all? I doubt it. And I intend to call your bluff.
I touch the book gingerly on its spine. I look around to see if anyone notices. My mind screams, “Nooooooo! Don’t do it! Don’t listen to the voice of doubt! You’re better than this!” And yet, like Orpheus looking back to check on Eurydice, I cannot resist the temptation. What if I’m wrong? What if the seemingly unqualified Random Author does know something I don’t? I quickly slip the book from the shelf into the middle of the pile I’ve amassed. Whew! That was close. That lady over by the computer terminals. Did she see me? Is she smirking? Crap. I abandon the promise of the art section for the time being, hang my head slightly and dash to a nearby study carrel to indulge my insecurities in peace.
Scanning the Table of Contents/List of Childhood Traumas, I ask myself what I’m most dreading as a parent. I’m not going to read the whole book, after all, just the portion that pertains to a truly odious parental responsibility that I’d rather avoid. I hit upon it towards the end of the list: The Talk. That awkward discussion about the birds and the bees that we all had with our hopelessly clueless parents at some point in our lives. Some of us giggled our way through it, others stuffed our fingers in our ears and shrieked “I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you! Lalalalalalalalalala!” while we ran at warp speed out of the house. Ah, adolescence. Good times.
I begin the rationalization process: Valentine’s Day is here after all, and with all that romance in the air and naked little putti waiting to hit all unsuspecting humans with their aphrodisiac-tainted love darts, it could happen. My three-year-olds could ask me about where babies come from, right? Yeah, totally plausible. I’d better read up on how Random Author suggests I handle the situation. I turn to the correct page and commence reading.
Yada, yada, yada. Be a good listener. Use correct terminology for body parts. Don’t forget to address the emotional side as well. Yeah. All stuff I already knew. Sweet! My self-awarded Parent of the Millennium status remains intact! I knew it would! Phew, for a minute there I lost myself.*
This entire, and somewhat harrowing, process could have been completely avoided had I simply had confidence in my own parenting skills. My kids are normal toddlers who do not display any behavioral maladies for which I should actively seek out professional help. They aren’t cruel to animals. They don’t start fires. They don’t hit or bite other kids. They don’t even swear! So, what am I doing picking up a parenting-advice book written by a marginally-qualified author? Why this culture of fear and doubt? The problem is larger than the middle class parental milieu to which I belong. It’s endemic to all things American. But this is a subject for a dissertation, not a so-called parenting column written by a marginally-qualified at-home mom in Chicago.
As with all good life experiences, I learned a little something from my time at the library. (And truthfully, isn’t that what libraries are for?) I learned that I shouldn’t listen to the voice of doubt who tells me I may not be doing things correctly. With parenting, there is no incorrect as long as your children are safe and thriving. There’s simply doing what you know and trusting that your kids will be fine. Let’s face it, you survived being brought up by your parents, right? Your kids will survive, too.
When people ask me what I do to get my kids to do X, my answer is always the same: nothing. I’m there to guide them, but they’re driving the stagecoach. When they get too unruly, I calm them. When they get tired, I put them to bed. When they get bored, I read to them or play trains with them or engage in another similar activity that they find fun. I’m not constantly hounding them with flashcards to make sure they’re maximizing learning time, nor am I pushing them to achieve athletically or to become involved in activities I find interesting and/or valuable. Winchie and Squeaky are fine how they are. The world is theirs to explore and they will naturally gravitate toward and learn about things they enjoy.
So to parents who are all freaked out that little Johnny or Susie isn’t reading by the time they’re two or haven’t reached superstar status in their preschool by replicating Rodin sculptures with Play-Doh, I say this: chill. Take a deep breath, throw out all of those What to Expect… books and simply get to know your child/children. Your kids will tell you everything you need to know about them and when problems arise, trust your instincts. You’ll be fine. I promise. You don’t need questionable advice from self-helpers. You are all the authority you need.
Now go out there and have a great Valentine’s Day. Yes, it’s kind of a crap holiday created by Hallmark and their ilk, but it celebrates love, which is never a bad thing. Go find a special someone and give him/her a squeeze. And because you are all the authority you need, the location of said squeeze is entirely up to you. * wink, wink *
*Thanks, Thom Yorke! Ok Computer rules!