Random header image... Refresh for more!

The Best Parenting (and Marriage) Advice I Have to Give

This is my contribution to my own alternative to the SOPA blackout taking place today.  I’m calling it Free Advice Day.  I didn’t make a fancy badge because I literally came up with this idea as a response to why I’m not participating in the blackout.  If you would like to participate in order to celebrate the good of the Internet as a protest to SOPA, please go to your blog and write a post giving your best advice (truly, it will help if you read this post first to understand what sorts of things people can write), and then use the linky feature at the bottom of this post in order to add your advice to Free Advice Day.  Oh, and you can feel free to stick around and read my advice, which may not really be good advice at all.  It may actually be crap advice.  As with so many things, it’s all in the point-of-view.

The advice I’m about to give stems from a friend joking that I should write a parenting book because I convinced the ChickieNob that she likes math (when she did, in fact, find it torturous), and in turn, she became good at math.  I realized in talking with my friend that my parenting advice is the same as my relationship advice, and pretty much all of my life advice that involves other people can be boiled down to a single thought.  That thought then plays out in various ways.  This is it:

Every relationship is just a relationship.

The core of this is a belief that no relationship is a given.  I need to work at being a good daughter, I need to work at being a good wife, and I need to work at being a good parent.  Literally no one in life is “stuck” with you, and beyond love flowing from parent to child, we are owed very little unless we invest ourselves enough to earn that return.  Therefore, I put a lot of effort into all my relationships — friendship and family — that matter to me and never lean back on that idea of “well, you have to care about me.”  Because they don’t.  The flip side is that no relationship is sacred — how I am treated entirely decides for me how I invest myself in that relationship.  Regardless of how the person is related to me, if they’re going to treat me poorly, they won’t be a large part of my life.  So it goes both ways — you can both screw yourself and save yourself by remembering that you need to actually work at all relationships and never think that you can skate by.

Josh and I have a goal: we want the kids to be friends with each other and wanting to spend time with us when they’re older.  We also would like to still be married to each other when we’re in our nineties.  And these are a few ways of how we’re trying to make that happen, knowing full well that every person is in charge of their own destiny and they can be pointed in the right direction, but it’s up to each child to actually get there.  If these resonate with you at all, I can write down more ways that we think through our relationships to one another.  It is such hubris to think that I have it all figured out.  I really haven’t.  Every relationship is a work in progress.

Give Them My Time

You know how there are some friends that you never see, who seemingly blow you off?  They put all their activities and other people first?  You know how you can tell the difference between a friend who is honestly busy and one who isn’t prioritizing you?  Well, I believe that your kids and partner can tell the difference too.

This doesn’t mean that I need to cook from scratch three balanced meals each day, all the while twirling around the kitchen in my apron as if my entire purpose in life is to serve other people.  I work full time — albeit at a non-traditional job with flexible hours — and the twins know that I need to put in about 40 hours a week.  Which means that sometimes I phone in dinner.  Which means sometimes I need to get work done instead of play.

But the time I have to give, I give to the people most important to me.  When I am with them, I am present.  I am not looking at my blackberry the entire time.  I am not walking away from the activity every two minutes just to take care of one little thing.  The twins know that I am going to be in the kitchen with them while they do their homework so they can ask their questions.  They know that I am going to listen when they want to tell me a story.  Josh knows that when we’re eating dinner together, I am focused on him.  I participate in activities that matter to the three of them.  I volunteer in the twins’ school, I lead some of their after school activities, I bake for Josh’s office — and I do these things because I want to send a clear message that their lives matter to me.  What matters to them matters to me.  It’s how I treat my close friends too.  I close email and listen to them talk.  I make sure that if I am giving them my time, I am actually giving them my time.

It needs, of course, to be a balance so that I am not lost in the shuffle of obligations (work) and relationships.  The twins have seen me not answer the phone because I want them to know that they are so important, I would skip phone calls because what they’re saying matters (the same idea that the actual customer in front of you is more important that the potential customer calling from their home).  And at the same time, they see me take phone calls because they need to know that there are more people out there than them.

And all of this extends to a larger idea: there are people I would and have dropped everything and flown to be with (even though I am terrified of planes) because they needed me.  I can’t give everyone that level of care, but the people who are in that inner circle know that they can take my time if they need it.  And I’m always grateful when they do.  People like to be needed.

This ties into that whole idea of convincing the ChickieNob that she’s good at math; I am there when she has math homework.  I try to think through how to make it fun for her.  I think about the attitude I bring to her homework, because she usually picks up on how I feel about something and mirrors it.  I don’t act as if spending time helping her with math is a chore; I let her know that it’s just one more way I can be there for her.  And she in turn embraces it in the same way she embraces her tuck-in at night or how I leave her lunch notes.  It is a way of showing care, and when you care about something, the people who love you tend to care about it too.

Never Talk About One Child with Another (or Your Partner with Either Child)

If you are having a problem with one of your children — and you will one day have a problem with one of your children — never speak about that problem with another child in the family.  This is mostly, obviously, sibling to sibling, but it also applies when you have one parent who has a problem with a child whereas the other parent doesn’t.  And it certainly applies to never discussing your partner negatively with your children.

When we vent about another person, what we are doing is establishing an us-against-them attitude.  It’s totally fine when I bitch to my friend about a person she doesn’t know.  My friend’s job is to have my back and support me.  She doesn’t have anything at stake, therefore, there is no choice to be made — she will pick me, her friend.  But what about when the two people know each other and have their own relationship with each other?  What you are doing is putting the listener in a position where you are silently asking them to make a choice.  And it’s the fastest way to destroy a relationship between two other people.

My parents were fantastic in that I never knew when they were pissed at my siblings.  I may have known that my sibling was grounded and why, but my parents never spoke directly with me in a negative way about any of my siblings nor would they really entertain discussing my fights with my siblings with me.  If I went to complain to them, they would listen neutrally and not get emotionally involved in the discussion.  They simply repeated the same idea over and over again, and let us do with it what we will rather than try to micromanage our relationships: friends will come and go, but your siblings will be the people who could potentially be there for you your entire life.

And it’s true: to this day, friends have come and gone, but my siblings (and a few select sisters-by-choice who are fictive kin) are amongst my best friends.  They’re on my list of people that I would drop everything for and fly across the country to be there for in an instant even though I hate planes.  Which is why I would never complain about the ChickieNob to the Wolvog nor vice versa because I want them to be good friends in the future.  If I need to complain, I call a friend.  If I’m complaining to a family member, I make sure that I am focusing on disliking the behaviour and not complaining about the person as a whole.  But most importantly, I would never share with one child how I’m feeling about the other one nor would I ever tell my children if I was angry with Josh.  Because in doing so, I would send the silent message to that child that they should side with me.  Or inadvertently, they could also decide their loyalty lies with their twin or father and push away from me.

This applies now and it applies in the future, when I’m in my nineties and they’re in their sixties.  No relationship is a given: I can’t treat their relationship with each other poorly and then say, “but they need to stick together!  They’re siblings.”  They actually don’t have to stick together, and they won’t if I don’t take active steps to make sure we all respect our individual relationships to one another.

Give Them Power

If I want my relationship with my children to constantly evolve, I need to let the relationship evolve.  In a parent-child relationship, that means empowering the child more and more as they move towards adulthood.  Which, of course, guts me.  But just as I let every other relationship in my life ebb and flow, I need to let this one too.

Which means that I have to remind myself not to hold on so tenaciously because I don’t want them to feel more tied to me than to their own life.  It means I need to be realistic in how they spend their time: they may not always choose to be with me, and that might not have any reflection on me just as I sometimes prioritize them over everything else and sometimes prioritize another activity that needs to get done before them.  It is hard to watch them form their own friendships and run off with other people.  But it’s also what I want because I know that if I allow this relationship to evolve, I have a better chance of Josh and I reaching that goal of still having them want to include us in their life.

It’s not a given that they will still need me or want to be with me when they’re older.  I need to create a relationship that they want to return to, that bolsters their self-esteem; a place where they feel good about themselves.  I like to treat my relationship with them like the bar at Cheers.  The characters didn’t spend all their time at the bar — they had other things in their life — but they always wanted to end up back there because it was a place where the people knew them.  Where they felt safe to be themselves.  And letting go and empowering your child is the best way to send the message that your heart is a place where they can be themselves, where they won’t be judged, where their life choices will be accepted, and that they never have to pretend to be someone they’re not.

Last Thought

All of this is what I learned from observing my parents.  Which is not only to give them credit for instilling this in me, but also to point out that yes, your children and partners are watching and incorporating what you put out there.  How you act now shapes your relationship as well as how they comport themselves in the world.  I think Josh makes me a better person with how he treats me, and I hope that I make him a better adult by the way I treat him.  But I’m also always mindful that how I behave shapes the adults and parents my children become.  Scary thought, but also a pretty damn exciting one too.  No strong relationships are by accident.

Last Last Thought
Thought this entire post was crap advice? Well how about this: I leave a set of cleaning supplies in every room of the house so I can quickly grab them and clean for a few minutes rather than setting aside a specific time to schlep a set of supplies from room to room, dusting and bleaching.

I just wanted to make sure you were leaving this post with something useful.

Add Your Post to Free Advice Day

Use the linky widget below to add your advice post to Free Advice Day/Protest SOPA. Any links below that do not go directly to a post (in other words, do not use the main url for your blog; use the permalink for the post) or links that do not go to a post that gives advice will be removed.

Now go read some great advice above.


1 Lacie { 01.18.12 at 7:57 am }

Excellent advice, Mel. I loved this post. While my family has a lot of love, there was always a lot of negativity as well. This is really, really good stuff. Stuff I will put it in my pocket and try to remember, every single day.

2 Louisa { 01.18.12 at 8:07 am }

100% right, wow you totally got it (and that’s from a psych nurse practitioner who works with families).

3 a { 01.18.12 at 9:32 am }

What a nice, clear elucidation of things I try (and frequently fail) to practice!

4 Justine { 01.18.12 at 9:35 am }

As much as I don’t believe in books on parenting, you’d write an awesome book on parenting.

I am so guilty of trying to do too many things at once, not paying attention to my spouse or my kids. I don’t know what it is … why I think other things are important. Because if there’s anything I’ve discovered this past year, it’s that they’re not.

5 LauraC { 01.18.12 at 10:38 am }

I linked up today! I love this idea.

6 marwil { 01.18.12 at 11:48 am }

I just linked up, love this idea. And what great advice you give. I wish I can apply some of it to my kids when time comes.. you definitely could write a book on this, just saying.

7 Eggs In A Row { 01.18.12 at 12:22 pm }

I added my no-fail easy way to fake cooking dinner. 😉

I love the advice about not speaking ill about your partner to your children. I wish my parents read this.

8 KH99 { 01.18.12 at 12:41 pm }

It took me forever to think of something to post, but I finally did. Mel, your post was great and advice spot-on, especially the part about not talking to your child about another child or your spouse. I recently made that mistake with a friend about another friend and while there haven’t been any repercussions (that I know of), I feel guilty about doing it and wish I hadn’t.

9 Carla { 01.18.12 at 12:58 pm }

Mel, I love this post. And on a day when everyone is talking about internet piracy, I must admit that I am going to steal your first paragraph under “Every relationship is just a relationship” because it perfectly states something that I was trying to explain to my husband a few weeks ago. I said something about how loving him is a choice that I make or reaffirm every day. He got a little upset, thinking that I meant that loving him was a chore that I had to force myself to do!

10 HereWeGoAJen { 01.18.12 at 1:06 pm }

And clean while you talk on the phone. 😉

I wish everyone I hung out with followed this advice. I get so tired of listening to people complain viciously about their husbands and children.

11 Casey { 01.18.12 at 1:56 pm }

Thanks for this post Mel, and for starting the Free Advice Day initiative. (You never know, you may have to make this an annual event. I get the sense it’s probably going to be rather popular.)

My favourite part of this post, because I’m not a parent or TTC yet, was this bit: “What matters to them matters to me. It’s how I treat my close friends too. I close email and listen to them talk. I make sure that if I am giving them my time, I am actually giving them my time.

It’s a real eye-opener for me, because I tend to find that my mind wanders during conversations and I haven’t been listening 100% to what the person I’m talking to has to say. I need to learn to give them my time, then make sure that I’m actually giving them my time. It also applies to my ears, and anything else they may need to borrow. Thanks again for this great post.

12 Erica { 01.18.12 at 2:07 pm }

Oh, Mel, thanks for this. I’m so glad I read it today, that you’re doing an advice post instead of a blackout – I was really bogged down with the minutia of being a parent and a partner (Why is she fighting bedtime so hard? How could I have forgotten the coffee, of all things, at the grocery store?) and needed to be reminded about the big-picture.

And I love your Cheers metaphor. I think I will borrow it!

13 Mina { 01.18.12 at 2:37 pm }

I hate it when people complain about their partners/spouses or children. Vile habit…

Very good idea, this free advice day. I tried my best.

Now off to check out the other posts.

Thanks for being you, Mel. We can always count on you being our force, leader, adviser and friend. 🙂

14 Kate { 01.18.12 at 3:22 pm }

Great advice – makes mine sound extra silly (but still useful). My parents did the same general thing and I’m doing my best too.

15 April { 01.18.12 at 4:19 pm }

Great advice, Mel! Thanks for this good idea. I look forward to reading everyone’s posts.

16 Chickenpig { 01.18.12 at 7:17 pm }

Excellent advice! I think it all comes down to respect. I respect my kids as people, not just as my children, and I respect my husband. I haven’t realized until I read this post that I never talk about one sibling to another, or talk disparagingly about my husband to any of them. I think that comes from my mom. Even though my dad was a complete a-hole to her, and abandoned us, she never talked badly about him. She respected the fact that we loved him, and that she had loved him once too. Her respect for him just gave me even greater respect for her.

I have cleaning supplies neatly organized in a go basket on each floor of my house. That is also good advice 🙂 Thank you for ‘flying’ to my blog when I need your advice and comfort the most.

17 a { 01.18.12 at 7:33 pm }

Lucky #13! My advice is on the cranky side, but there are some good links there…

18 slowmamma { 01.18.12 at 8:13 pm }

I have long felt that it would be kind of wonderful to be one of your kids. Now I have a stronger notion of why. I suspect you have a bit more advice to give on this subject but this is excellent – and it does indeed go beyond parenting/marriage to all relationships.

19 Heather { 01.18.12 at 9:07 pm }

Awesome post!!! I’m too tired after my first day back at work to do my own advice post, so I’ll post my favorite snippets here.
1. Never complain to your family and friends about your DH. If you can, talk to your MIL. You can vent and she will still love him. Your friends and family don’t have to forgive and forget the wrongs your DH has done, which you will do.
2. Date night is important. After kids arrive, make sure to make date night a priority. Find a babysitter you trust to have some time with your spouse. Someday the kids will be grown up and you will be left with each other again. You’ll want to remember what you like to do together.
3. I’m not a big fan of parenting books (other than Dr. Spock). I always say to trust your instincts about your children. If you think they are sick. Take them to the doctor. You are the person that knows your child the best.

20 jjiraffe { 01.18.12 at 9:09 pm }

Nicely said, Mel. This is solid advice, and I am struck by how similar your techniques are to how my parents raised me. They never spoke ill of each other, paid quality attention to my brother and me as well as to each other. They have been married 44 years and I had a wonderfully happy childhood which I am most thankful for.

21 Hope { 01.18.12 at 9:37 pm }

Okay, I read this post this morning, and perfectionist that I am, went into a total guilt funk about how I’ve been taking my DH for granted and how I could *never* be as wonderful a mother as you and follow all your rules. But this afternoon, after it had percolated for a while, I remembered the first, and takeaway point, that relationships are just relationships, and that we have to work at them. All. Our. Lives. And that it’s probably okay if my way of working at my relationships is different from yours. We are two different people after all.

Thanks for sharing how you do it. 🙂

22 Barb { 01.18.12 at 10:38 pm }

I like it. 🙂

23 Justine { 01.18.12 at 11:13 pm }

And shoot … meant to put only my first name in the linky “name” box … any way to fix it? (*headdesk*)

24 Sean S { 01.18.12 at 11:20 pm }

Good advice is hard to come by, but you’ve centralized a place to get it from wonderful people. Awesome job as usual!

25 Geochick { 01.18.12 at 11:34 pm }

You’ve got some great advice in your post. Thank you!

26 Mina { 01.19.12 at 4:00 am }

Bloody blogspot won’t let me comment no matter what I do! Anyone else has this problem?

In any case, I loved all post I read. Great advice, ladies! We should do this more often. Not regularly, so as not to make it a chore, or to force ourselves to come up with something new everytime, but once in a while.

27 Gil { 01.19.12 at 9:15 am }

I linked up, but I goofed! I linked to the home page of the blog rather than the individual post link. Eeek. Feel free to remove it Mel and I’ll add the correct one.

That said, thank you for the initiative. I’ve read some great advice in the last 24 hours. Yours in particular Mel. It may get me through a particularly tough spot at the moment. Thank you for posting and bringing us together.

28 Bionic Baby Mama { 01.19.12 at 9:46 am }

thank you for the advice, especially the bit about not talking smack about one sibling to another. my mother uses me as the primary complaint center about my father — which drives me nuts and makes me not want to call her when i know she’s on a tear, which is just when she could use cheering up — but as an only child married to an only child, i hadn’t thought about the sibling problem in that light. the bean and any future siblings thank you.

29 Kir { 01.19.12 at 3:29 pm }

as usual you are amazing and generous with your advice. I agree with all of it and will try very hard to take each little bit and hand feed it to myself and my family 🙂

as the mom of two very very different little boys…I found a lot of this so RIGHT ON…that I have saved and printed it. THANK YOU. xo

30 Emily { 01.19.12 at 8:04 pm }

Such great advice! Thanks Mel!

31 Lut C. { 01.20.12 at 5:10 pm }

Well, I’m certainly in need of some marriage advice right now :-S
Believe it or not, this post puts into words the sore spot precisely.
Great post!

32 Stinky { 01.20.12 at 6:54 pm }

(ICLW) I wondered what you would have to say on the SOPA thing – loved the idea of adviceposts (I have no advice right now) as the whole SOPA bill would certainly affect blogging and the ALI community in some form?
You should put this one in CDLC I reckon!

33 Natalie { 01.25.12 at 4:39 pm }

Great post! I need to pay attention to the one “don’t complain about your spouse to your kids”. When my DD was a baby I would vent to her sometimes becuase I knew she couldn’t understand me. It was like talking to myself, but she was there, so I just talked to her. Now that she is a pre-schooler, I try not to do that anymore, and you have reminded me to watch my chatter.
To add to that piece of advice I will tell you something a friend told me once. “Don’t complain too much about your spouse to your friends/family. Your portrayal of them will color your friends’ opinions. Basically if you really love your spouse, don’t constantly complain to your girlfriends about him. When they see him and hang out with you all together they will have a lower opinion of him based on your complaints.”

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
The contents of this website are protected by applicable copyright laws. All rights are reserved by the author