The Dirty Little Secret About Parenting Experts

Illustration by Jim Stoten for The New Yorker

Illustration by Jim Stoten for The New Yorker

“A recent study has shown that if American parents read one more long-form think piece about parenting they will go fucking ape shit.”

That’s the opening line to the latest New Yorker piece making the rounds of my Facebook feed, and the rest of the article is just as brilliant.

You may find it a bit odd that someone who writes a parenting blog (and has written an upcoming parenting book*) would share such an article. The truth is, I didn’t just share it. I LOVED IT.

Here’s the other truth: we parenting “experts” (and as I have said before, I don’t consider myself a parenting expert, but I don’t yet have a better word for those of us who are either gutsy or stupid enough to spout off about something as personal, complicated, nuanced, and unpredictable as flawed human adults raising hopefully-not-as-flawed-but-who-the-hell-really-knows human children) don’t really know what we’re talking about.

It’s not that we don’t have good data and sound research to back us up; of course we do. And it’s not that we aren’t well intentioned, and it’s not that we don’t give good advice. We do that, too. The thing is, we’re prone to talking as though we’ve figured out the answer, or at least an answer, but the reality is that when it comes to parenting, there aren’t any answers—at least not any clear, concrete ones that will make parenting easier over the long term, guarantee that that we won’t colossally screw up our kids, and ensure that they will grow up to be decent people and successful hedge-fund managers.

Yes, I like to spout off about mindful parenting, because I truly believe that at the end of the day, after we wade through all of the clever quotes on Facebook and top ten lists on the Huffington Post and perky suggestions from the latest parenting book, all we have is the present moment, and our connection to our children as it exists in that moment. The whole mindfulness thing can get pretty tricky, though, because in any given moment our kids can range from angels to demons, from the most logical, predictable, kind, reasonable little beings we’ve ever met to evil, demented hellions who make us wish orphanages still existed.

It’s not just the kids, either. It’s us. On any given day, in any given moment, I range from a totally zen, calm, responsive Mama to a psycho hose beast who will bite off her kids’ heads at the drop of a hat. (Literally: “IN THE NAME OF ALL THINGS HOLY, WILL YOU PLEASE PICK UP YOUR HAT? YOU JUST DROPPED IT IN A FREAKING PUDDLE!!) Some days, I am a Tiger Mama, becoming slightly (ahem) obsessed about finding the right school and making sure that my girls are in enough extra-curricular activities (but not too many, we have to balance out their structured and free time just perfectly)! Other days, I am an attachment mother, one who can’t bear to leave her daughters with a babysitter two nights in a week, and who hasn’t yet gone away on a 5-day silent retreat even though it’s the next logical step in my mindfulness practice. Then again, I’m a confident supporter of benign neglect, feeding them boxed macaroni and cheese for the third night in a row, letting them watch an extra TV show, and responding to their latest conflict by encouraging them to “just figure it out already.”

Most days, though, I’m just bumbling along, one moment at a time, trying to stay as calm and kind as I possibly can. Some days are better than others. Some days I feel fairly confident in my parenting abilities, and other days I am quite certain that I don’t have the slightest clue as to what I am doing. They’re both true, of course, and I would dare say they’re true for everyone, even the parenting experts among us. No matter how many children we’ve raised or books we’ve written or talks we’ve given, we’re just humans—deeply, tragically, beautifully, imperfect beings, no matter how good we are at presenting ourselves as otherwise.

I guess the point of all of this, and the reason why I loved this New Yorker article so much, is that we have to stop taking ourselves and our kids and parenting and all of this stuff so damn seriously. Without question, it is the most important work of our lives, but getting all uppity about how we’re doing it and attached to being right (which we all do from time to time—myself included) isn’t going to make it any easier or any better. Doing so just pulls us away, again and again, from what’s actually in front of us, from what’s true and real and painful and perfect about our children and ourselves and the connection between us.

So, read the article, have a laugh, and go be your awesome Tiger Attachment Mindful Parenting self. Hug your kids, put them in time out, hand them a cupcake, nag them about their broccoli. Do whatever you need to do to get through the day with as much compassion for yourself and your kids as you possibly can muster. At the end of the day, that’s all we’ve really got, and that’s all they really need.

*My first book, Parenting in the Present Moment: How to Stay Connected, Sane, and Focused on What Really Matters, will be published by Parallax Press, and it will be available for pre-order in the next couple of weeks.

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Shared by: Carla Naumburg, Ph.D, Contributing Blogger

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