About That Unsolicited Parenting Advice…

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My kids when they like to eat chicken fingers.

When my kids were young, I’d often get unsolicited advice from well-meaning friends and family members — and even complete strangers. I read with interest this article by Meghan Moravcik Walbert called Keep Every Single Parenting Opinion to Yourself for a website called Lifehacker.com. 

We’re living in a particularly divided country right now, but we are lucky to still have one great rage-inducing unifier among parents: We do not want your unsolicited opinions about our parenting. This is especially true if you do not have children of your own. (Dogs don’t count.)

I have to believe author Jill Filipovic simply wanted to argue about something unrelated to the literal end of our democracy when she tweeted this sparkling gem of an opinion recently:

Jill Filipovic
@JillFilipovic
I know the thing parents hate most is when non-parents assert what they will do as parents which is inevitably smug and incorrect, but I am 100% sure I will never assent to a “kid’s menu” or the concept of “kid food.”

In a follow-up tweet, she rhetorically ponders, “Do you think children in most of the world order off of a ‘kids menu’ and survive primarily off of chicken fingers and plain pasta?”

It seems her argument is that kids should have more variety in their diets, ignoring that kids’ menus exist to offer smaller, significantly cheaper portions of food for children to make it affordable and less wasteful when families go out to eat. But see, this is why parenting opinions from non-parents is so universally grating: They’re blind to fundamental aspects of parenting that are obvious to those of us who have actually done it.

Yes, you’re very smart, and you’ll introduce your kids to lots of flavors, and they’ll always eat exactly what you eat because there’s no way you’ll cook one meal for you and a separate meal for them. If you become a parent, what’s more likely is that we can look forward to hearing you say, “No, honey, you have to buy the dinosaur-shaped nuggets; he doesn’t like the regular ones.”

I have one dear friend, well more than one, who constantly criticized the bland
“kid food” I served my children. We would go to a friend’s and stay for a long weekend and I’d bring food for my kids to eat — things I knew they’d like. Yes, my groceries included chicken fingers. My friend didn’t understand why my kids wouldn’t want to consume her kale with quinoa or homemade chile rellenos. She’d point out another friend of hers who had kids who loved to eat all her veggies and her adult flavored dishes. My kids liked carrots, snap peas and the like — especially dipped in ranch dressing. At a young age, their taste buds were more sensitive to spice. It wasn’t long before they grew into more adult diets and indulged in sushi and spicy Mexican food. As adults they love to eat vegetables and they cook healthy and interesting meals. No, they are not living off of chicken fingers.

The point is that I’d get criticized by friends and family members who didn’t have kids, or had children who were infants or teenagers. They weren’t dealing with kids three to seven years old and they either hadn’t been through those experiences or they forgot about those glorious days.

I used to ask my kids what they wanted to eat. My daughter always said chicken. Once I made pan-fried sole for dinner. She said, “Now this is the chicken I like!” That was eye-opening to me, because I didn’t realize that she was calling most foods “chicken!”

One of my friends had a son a couple years younger than my kids. We were at a family-fun restaurant and her toddler son kept jumping out of the high chair. She said, “I really owe you an apology. All of those things I criticized or tried to give you advice about — I had no idea!”

There’s more great examples in the article about unsolicited advice and how parents think they would NEVER raise their voice at their children (who aren’t born yet). Read the entire article for yourself here. It’s an entertaining read.

Here’s another article I’ve written about unsolicited advice. Read it here.

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Life at the beach with two young kids.

What funny experiences have you had with people giving you unsolicited parenting advice?

Which is better? Old school vs. new school parenting?

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Me and my big brother.

Which is best? The way we were raised, back when parents weren’t involved and we roamed free all over the countryside? Or, how parents are doing it today, attending every sports and piano practice, totally focused on our children’s every move?

According to Deon Price in an article in the Daily Republic called “This Youth Generation: Is ‘old school’ or ‘new school’ parenting best for raising a child?” he compares the two styles and it’s kind of funny to look at how different they are.

For example, many adults remember when it was okay for teachers to paddle kids at school. (I remember the boys were the ones getting paddled. I don’t really remember that technique used on girls except for one teacher who liked to showboat.) Parents were allowed to do that too, and some used a belt rather than a paddle. Today, I think “Alexa” or a neighbor would call the cops on a parent that whipped a child. My parents weren’t into punishment or maybe my brother and I were just pretty darn good kids.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Speaking with parents, youth and anyone raising children, I pose the question: Does “old school” or “new school” parenting work best for the proper upbringing of a child?

This discussion often gets even deeper when it begins to penetrate the surface into different cultural and socio-economic environments. Parenting styles quite often drastically differ, depending on the generation. What is considered strict old-school “tough love” would be considered excessive or maybe even abusive to some. What some modern parents call nurturing and bonding may be considered babying.

What is obvious is that our environment has changed, which has inevitably affected the way parents deal with their children.

Here are just a few examples:

Having an opinion vs. talking back: New-school parenting supports the gesture of “allowing a child to voice his or her opinion.” Old-school parenting says, “You better know when to hold your tongue or you may lose it.” Or, “Don’t let your mouth write a check that your behind can’t cash.” I believe in a healthy balance between the two. At least explain the reason for your parenting decision and ask if your children have any questions so that there are no misunderstandings.

Butt whipping vs. time-out: Time-out is what new-school parents use to deal with inappropriate behavior by a child. Old-school parents use butt-whipping – and as one parent put it, “You also got a lecture during that whipping.” There is a strong opposition against any physical discipline of a child. Some are simply calling it violence and abuse regardless. That in my personal and professional experience is ridiculous. When progressive discipline is in place, the child’s response will determine the level of discipline that should be applied. As a balanced, responsible parent, it’s good to remember to discipline with love and not anger. Never discipline a child while you are angry. Maybe it’s a good idea for the parent to take a time-out before they decide on a butt-whipping.

“Yes sir” vs. “What”: According to one old-school parent, “Children respond back to their parent(s) and/or elders by saying ‘what?’ In my day, if my dad called one of us and we answered with ‘what?,’ we were in for it.” The new-school style has gotten a little soft when it comes to expecting respect from children. “Yes sir” or “Yes ma’am” when responding to an elder person was mandatory. It’s rare to hear the words sir or ma’am from today’s generation of children.

I remember being outside most of the time as a child. Do you remember that, too? We hiked through the woods hacking a trail with machetes or rode for miles on our bikes to visit friends. Evenings were spent playing a softball game called workup where the older kids dominated and I stayed in the outfield forever. It was boring, but it was the place to be under the street lights. Doing all of this was usually without our parents knowing or caring where we were. We came back to the house when we were hungry.

Whether you prefer old school, new school or a combination, there is no black-and-white, clear right or wrong way of parenting. However, it is wise to discerned how we perform the duties of the most critical role on the planet. Please share your thoughts.

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My kids in a more structured life centered around swimming.

What are your thoughts about old school vs. new school parenting? What style do you most closely follow? 

When Parents Do Too Much for Their Kids

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My young Piranhas. They are never too young to learn responsibility for their actions.

I read an interesting article that a friend posted on FB called “8 Things Kids Need to Do By Themselves Before They’re 13” by Amy Carney. Carney is the mother of triplet teen boys and two other younger children and she’s got parenting down.

Her article listed things that parents need to stop doing or we won’t have independent well-functioning kids. I thought it made some really good points, and I wish I would have heard about this list before my kids were in middle school. I have been known to bail my kids out, rushing to school with their forgotten homework or lunches. Their lack of planning on big projects became my emergencies and stress. I wasn’t helping them at all by picking up the pieces. In truth, I bailed out one child more than the other, and that child almost failed out of college his freshman year. He was not ready to go because I was doing everything for him, including waking him up in the morning.

Here are four of the eight things on her list. To read her complete list click here.

1. Waking them up in the morning
2. Making their breakfast and packing their lunch
3. Filling out their paperwork
4. Delivering their forgotten items

Monday morning we pulled out of the driveway and screeched around the corner of the house when daughter dear realized she forgot her phone. “We have to go back, Mom!” Another exclaimed that he forgot his freshly washed PE uniform folded in the laundry room. I braked in hesitation as I contemplated turning around. Nope. Off we go, as the vision surfaced of both of them playing around on their phones before it was time to leave.

Parents don’t miss opportunities to provide natural consequences for your teens. Forget something? Feel the pain of that. Kids also get to see, that you can make it through the day without a mistake consuming you.

We also have a rule that Mom and Dad are not to get pleading texts from school asking for forgotten items. It still happens, but we have the right to just shoot back “that’s a bummer.”

What happens when we do too much for our kids? In my opinion, they aren’t allowed to grow up. They have no consequences for their actions or lack of action. They don’t know how to plan, be responsible or own up to their mistakes. If you’re a parent who is continually jumping in to save your child, stop. You can’t move into the college dorm with them and by then it’s too late.

 

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When they were young and at the beach.

Both of my kids swam from elementary school through high school and one continued in college. I liked having my kids in year-round swimming because it taught them there was a direct correlation between their actions (how hard they tried) and outcomes (getting faster.) Also, practice every day, six days a week with a few doubles thrown in, taught them time management. They were responsible for their own equipment, too. There are tons of life lessons in the pool. But, because of how busy and dedicated they were, I overcompensated in other areas of their lives.

 

Here are a couple of SwimSwam articles I wrote on the subject:

In 11 Tips for Parents on What Our Kids Need to Know Before College, I have created a list of life skills that we should check off before the kids move out.
In 12 Hints You Might Be a Hovering Helicopter Swim Parent, I write about the little things we do for our kids without a second thought, that will put them at a disadvantage when they move away.
What are your thoughts about getting kids ready for the real world? Are we helping or hurting our kids by doing too much for them?

Changes on FB to Help Mom Groups

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One of my Facebook posts when I was doin a challenge.

If you’re a parent, you may belong to some Facebook parenting groups. I belong to a couple of swim ones, including The Savvy Swim Parent. I read today on Moms.com about some changes coming to FB.

In a story called Part Of A Parenting Group On Facebook? Here Are Some New Privacy Settings by Jennifer Passmore, she describes three new features for parenting groups.

Facebook has just rolled out some brand new privacy settings for parenting groups with new settings and privacy rules you should be aware of.

According to Passmore, she said that Facebook has rolled out anonymous posting. That way you can ask a question, without fear that there may be someone who knows you that reads your question. This would be helpful if it’s a topic you don’t want to let the whole world know you’re concerned about.

Another area that Facebook is changing has to do with badges:

Facebook is expanding upon their badge system, specifically tailored to parenting groups. This allows users to see exactly what stage of parenthood each member is at so they can better understand each other. The categories for the badges are as follows: Considering Parenthood, Expecting Parent, New Parent, Parent of Multiple Children, Parent of Young Kids, Parent of Older Kids, and Parent of Young Adults. So you will be able to choose a badge that suits you and your current parenting situation the best.

The third area mentioned in the article was a mentoring program. It’s available to other groups as well as parenting groups. If you want to help others you can sign up as a mentor, or if you’re needing help, become a mentee.

Facebook said, “We’ve been so inspired to see how parents have come together to share laughter, words of encouragement and support one another, especially during this challenging time.”

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What are your thoughts about the Facebook changes for parenting groups?

The Secrets to Handing Out Unsolicited Advice

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I learned from my daughter that she didn’t like my unsolicited advice. Really, nobody does. I catch myself giving unsolicited advice to people I see in the park, to other parents, especially on the swim team, and to my adult kids — my kids really don’t like it. I’m sure all those other people are so appreciative of me, right?

I saw an interesting article called How I Secretly Give Unsolicited Parenting Advice To My Friend Without Hurting Her Feelings, by Diane Mtetwa on the website Moms.com. Naturally, I was interested to find out what her secrets were. Here’s an excerpt.

Unsolicited advice can be turned down fairly quickly. This is how I offer advice to a mom friend before assuming she needs it.

Nobody likes unsolicited advice. The desire to receive unsolicited advice diminishes, even more, when you become a parent and it literally comes at you from every angle. You don’t even have to wait until the baby arrives before everyone you know has an opinion about how you should raise your child. People who don’t even have kids somehow think they know more about how to raise kids than you do and don’t hesitate to put their two cents in.

This barrage of unsolicited advice makes most parents learn to tune it out together or show resistance to the advice before they even hear it out. For the most part, this is for the best in order to keep your sanity as a parent but some advice, even unsolicited is good, might actually help you out, and doesn’t hurt to listen to. As much as I hate unsolicited advice myself, I know that I’ve gotten some good ideas when I’ve been too stubborn or prideful to ask for help. I don’t know if it was doubt in myself about my ability to raise a child or not wanting to admit that motherhood was as hard as it was but in many ways when I first became a mother, rather than asking other people for advice, I was determined to make my life harder by re-inventing the wheel and figuring it out on my own.

What I learned from my own experiences is that I didn’t love unsolicited advice for several reasons. The first being that people who knew nothing about my situation were keen to offer up advice not knowing if I’d tried whatever they were suggesting already or not. That was my biggest pet peeve about it and when people insisted that they knew my child better than me. I also deep down inside took it as someone questioning my parenting and assuming that I was doing it wrong. I’m sure this was true in some cases, but friends and family members who truly were concerned and knew how rough of a time I was having just wanted to help. I keep this in mind when I’m giving my own unsolicited advice but try to do it as secretly as I possibly can to avoid resistance.

Some of the author’s secrets to giving out unsolicited advice sound like great skills for all people to develop better relationships. Her tips include listening, sympathizing, and lending a hand. The article is definitely worth the read. She said she makes sure she tells the friend confiding in her that she doesn’t know her situation or child better than she does, but she can empathize. Also, she pulls out a story similar to her friend’s to say, I know someone who went through something similar. The end result is her friend will usually ask her for advice. And then it’s not unsolicited.

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When we were all much younger.

What are your thoughts about unsolicited advice? 

Is defending your kids a sign of snowplowing?

I wrote this story two years ago, looking back on how I would jump in to defend my kids when I detected the slightest wrongdoing against them. This was my tendency to hover, helicopter and be a snowplow mom. I don’t think my own mom was aware of most of the troubles I was going through–let alone fight the school, principal, teacher or coach over them. She let me handle things by myself. The only time I remember them getting involved was when my brother got suspended for his long hair, which touched the collar of his shirt. Somehow, after that suspension, the entire high school’s dress code got changed and long hair was allowed.

When they were young.

I was always a stickler for what was right or wrong and I never shied away from addressing any issue. I would go to bat for my kids whenever I felt they were being slighted. Looking back, I see that is a trait of helicopter parenting and I might have done more good for my kids by letting them fight their own battles.

Here are a few battles I took on when I thought my kids weren’t being treated right:

I wrote an email to my son’s AP History teacher to complain about his grade. He was .05 off an A and I felt the teacher should round it up. I got a note back explaining that if he were to round up my son’s grade, he’d have to go back and do the same thing for every other student in his grade book who was a fraction off the next higher grade. (Not a bad idea, I thought!) My son was being passed over for his school’s nomination for the coveted National Merit Scholarship award because of the B, but he lived through it.

When I felt a coach was picking on my son, I made an appointment to complain about it, only to find out that he had earned the “coach’s award” for best attitude and effort. That surprised me and I’m embarrassed about that meeting to this day.

When my daughter was given five days of after-school detention for forgetting to bring the photocopy of Christmas song lyrics to music class, I complained that the punishment was over the top. In fact, other kids were given two nights detention, so there was a definite crossing the line by the music teacher—in my humble opinion.

There are countless other incidents where I went to battle for my kids. I do believe I taught them the difference between right and wrong and that they should stand up for themselves. At least that’s what I told myself at the time.

I couldn’t understand why other parents would stand by and let bad things happen to their kids. I do now. Sometimes it’s better to keep your mouth shut and shrug your shoulders. I’ve found that some of the things that would have bugged me to no end, will soon disappear on their own within a few days or weeks. By making an issue out of little things, they can turn into big ones and burn a lot of energy and create angst.

My daughter complained to me last night that during a meeting with students on a group project, the guys were complaining that all the women coming forward about sexual harassment were “just looking for attention.” That infuriated my daughter to no end. I asked her if she was going to put up with it or wanted to go to the professor or counselor and complain. She decided to let it go. She’s a week from being done with the class and just wants to get through it. I told her I would stand by whatever she decided.

When my son received a letter telling him he was kicked out of school during the summer after his freshman year for bad grades, I was horrified. But, then I stood by and watched him research his options online. He wrote a letter to contest the decision and got hospital and doctor records to substantiate his unfortunate circumstances of an injury and surgery which caused too many missed classes. He was let back in without me doing a thing. After that, he earned As.

Me and my boy.

One thing I know about parenting is all we can do is try our best. It’s been my goal to raise kids who know the difference between right and wrong and will try their best as well.

What do you think about parents fighting battles for their kids? Are they helping or hurting them by getting involved?

How to sift through parenting advice

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Superpowers!

With all the parenting advice out there, what’s the best way to approach it? According to one dad, Neil MacFarlane, whose article appeared in the Halifax Chronicle Herald, he says: “Advice on parenting advice — don’t listen to any of it!”

I’m one to talk, right? I write weekly advice articles for SwimSwam.com and I love to tell parents how to do a better job. My thoughts come mostly from my own mistakes–or my husband’s. Once in awhile, I see parents making the same mistakes and I think if only they knew what I know. So I share it.

However, in public, I wouldn’t think of walking up to someone and tell them what they should do with their kids. It has happened to me a few times. A relative or a complete stranger would tell me to my face what I was doing wrong or what was wrong with my children. You have to love these folks, right? They may have no idea what is going on in your life, if your child missed their nap, is sick, or that sometimes it’s wise to pick your battles.

I did find the “don’t follow the advice” pretty funny and well written. Here’s an excerpt:

When people heard I traded in my joysticks and pen a parenting column these days, the first thing a lot of them asked was, “So, do you have any advice for me as a parent?”

As it happens, I do: don’t listen to anyone’s advice about parenting.

I know there are people who fancy themselves as parenting experts, many of whom are respected and have forged entire careers on the subject.

I’m sure there are wonderful articles adjacent to this very column that fit this profile; I wish their authors nothing but success and happiness.

But the fact is, any parent who thinks they are an expert on any child that is not their own is delirious.

Sure, we can all agree on some broad stroke parenting tips: Feed your kids. Occasionally bathe them. Make them brush their teeth. Send them to school. Don’t let them play with kerosene. And so on.

But when it comes down to the nitty-gritty stuff like lifestyle choices, discipline methods and ways to engage and encourage your kids, it baffles me that some stranger thinks they’ve got my kids all figured out. Hell, I barely have my own kids figured out and I live with these maniacs.

For example, I know some parents who’ve adopted a strict “no screen time” policy with their young children. No iPads, no video games, no TV. Nada.

Like communism, this sounds good on paper, but I think this is madness, personally.

You’re basically setting your kids up to be like Brendan Fraser when he emerges from that fallout shelter in Blast From the Past the moment they have to go to school and realize they’ve been living in the dark ages their whole life. They’ll basically want to spend all their free time at their friends’ places and you’ll wonder where you went wrong.

But that’s just me and how I feel. I’d never chew out a parent who thought that was the best course of action for their kids. Maybe their kids have attention issues I don’t know about. Perhaps they have found ways outside of technology to stimulate and engage with their kids that work for them. It’s not my place to judge.

robkatrockWhat do you think about people who stop you in public to judge you or your kids?