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Everyone Was Once a Child

I got some fantastic parenting advice from a woman who called herself not-a-parent before she delivered it.  She was sitting on a panel, and I asked a question about a problem we had encountered with one of the kids.

The first panelist gave some advice, and it was sound advice, but we had already tried that route and it hadn’t worked.  Even when I told her that it hadn’t worked, she continued to emphasize the same thoughts.  The second panelist repeated the words of the first panelist, giving the exact same advice.

But the third panelist looked at me thoughtfully and said, “you know, I’m not a parent, but…” and then she launched into the most helpful take on the situation that I’ve heard.  A combination of tough-love and realism coupled with supportive and nurturing warmth.  Her words just clicked with me.  She got it.

Afterwards, we spoke for a bit so I could thank her for the advice and also point out that one doesn’t need to be a parent to know how to parent or to give other people advice on getting out of sticky parenting situations.

Because here’s the thing: there are plenty of places in life where being an outsider to the situation means that we probably can’t give very good advice.  For instance, she cannot give advice on what it is like to navigate the world as an African-American woman because she’s not — and never was — an African-American woman.  She can’t speak to what it’s like to be an Asian man, or what it’s like to be deaf.

But everyone was once a child (unless you’re still a child whereas this post will be applicable to you in a few years).  And everyone knows what resonated with them when they were a child; which words permeated their goldfish brain and which ones bounced off the surface.  Every person can sit with the situation for a moment and consider what they would have wanted to hear from an adult when they were a child.

If she were giving me advice on how I feel as a parent, that may be a different story.  Then her life situation would matter a bit more; it is hard to give advice on something you haven’t experienced yourself.  But she wasn’t.  She was giving kid advice.  And since she was once a kid, she was completely qualified to give kid advice.  Obviously — since it was kickass kid advice.

I’ve been very cognizant lately of times when I negate my own expertise in order to couch every word in some polite version of “but I could be wrong!”  Well, yes, all of us, at any point, could be wrong.  But we’re usually not.  We’re usually spot-on when we’re speaking from a place of knowledge.  And when we’re not right, there will be plenty of time to apologize and correct ourselves.  But… you know… no need to do that beforehand.

So, yeah, I take parenting advice from anyone who was once a kid.  They’re experts based on experience.


1 andy { 07.21.15 at 8:46 am }

That’s a really great take on things, and a perspective I’ve never considered. thank you!

2 Katherine A { 07.21.15 at 10:05 am }

Love this – and so true!

Some of the best parenting advice I’ve received has come from people who aren’t parenting. I think perhaps they remember better what it was like to BE a child, as opposed to filtering some of the experiences through raising a specific child/ren.

When several of my non-parenting cousins/in-laws were asked what advice they would give me about raising my daughter, they compiled a list of “Don’t be surprised/too mad when…” and then listed things they actually did in childhood. It was fantastic, a good reminder of some of the stuff kids do, and also quite funny.

3 Laurel Regan { 07.21.15 at 10:56 am }

I actually found myself in a situation recently where a parent was asking a group of us for advice/opinions about a situation with her child, and my non-parent self was at a complete loss until I started thinking back to what I felt like and wanted when I was the age her child is now. I don’t know that my advice was particularly helpful to her, but being able to contribute to the conversation in my own way was empowering. Thank you for this validation. 🙂

4 Charlotte { 07.21.15 at 11:37 am }

I don’t know…I have definitely been on the receiving end of unsolicited advice/comments from single, childless people, and it was one of those situations where in my head I was thinking “you can think/say that because you don’t actually have kids”. On the other hand I have gotten advice, again unsolicited, from other parents where I am just in shock at the suggestions. One that really stands out is when my oldest was young, she went through a 2 year phase where she slept horribly. Took forever to settle down, was up several times at night coming into our room, thinking 2am was wake up time. Another parent friend said we should put a reverse lock on her bedroom door and physically lock her in her room at night until morning. Seriously. Obviously I did not do this and eventually the situation got better on its own.
So I guess anyone, parent or not, can give really bad parenting advice.
The funny thing is…I almost never actually ask for parenting advice from anyone, but people just feel free to give it.

5 Lori Lavender Luz { 07.21.15 at 12:33 pm }

Yes. Yes. Yes.

6 Cristy { 07.21.15 at 1:51 pm }

I have to laugh because we were having a similar conversation yesterday at the daycare.

There’s a TON of parenting advice out there. One could literally spend a lifetime researching and reading. What happens less often is thinking about things from the child’s point of view. You talked about this before: people adhere to parenting philosophy sometimes at the expense of what is best for their kids. Often, it’s a matter of practicing empathy while recognizing that they need certain things that they may not be able to communicate.

And some of the best teachers at this school who “get” the kids are not parents.

7 Bronwyn Joy { 07.21.15 at 9:44 pm }

This is very true.

I think a lot of the problem is that too many people over-generalise their advice and/or don’t appreciate its narrowness of range.

This woman was giving a child’s-eye view from a place which obviously overlapped well enough (or potentially well enough) with your child’s eyes. I’m sure the other parents on the panel were giving their parents’-eye views from a place they considered to be just as “knowledgable” – only there wasn’t enough overlap with your situation. And they failed to see that, which is annoying (tell me about it).

And I guess other parents more often have overlapping experiences when it comes to the parent-view and perhaps other parents see the complete picture more often, having access to both the child’s eye and parents’ eye (although truthfully this hasn’t been my experience). But we need to keep a bit of an open mind if we want to access the full range of wisdom in the world.

8 Northern Star { 07.22.15 at 12:24 am }

So perceptive! I love this!

9 Mali { 07.22.15 at 2:50 am }

As a non-parent, I of course want to say “brava!” to this. But you know, even on a post that talks about the value that a non-parent can bring to a parent about parenting, even when the comments are positive and admitting parents should be open to this, I find I am drafting and redrafting and redrafting my response, anxious not to upset anyone, scared that I will be on the end of a “you’re not a mother” barb.

I often think (I never dare say it) that I can see different ways of doing things, or I can see how parents are making their children feel (or their children tell me!), precisely because I don’t have a personal, from-experience parent’s-eye view. I don’t have any vested interest, I don’t have to defend the way I have done things, and I think that frees me to think in a more objective way. Life experience too is valuable. I think my views in my 50s would be/are a lot more thoughtful than before I tried to have children. If only I was ever asked for my opinion.

10 fifi { 07.22.15 at 7:09 pm }

I try to avoid giving unsolicited advice in general, and like Mali I’m extra afraid to give parenting advice for fear of the “you’re not a mother” response.

But one thing that surprises me about parents of teenagers is that some of them seem to forget what it was like to be a teenager. I guess it’s difficult not to take the moodiness personally when you’re on the receiving end. Like one guy I read online, saying that he’d always encouraged his son to talk openly about his feelings but the boy was reluctant to do so. I pointed out that when I hit puberty, I couldn’t put my feelings into words and found it stressful to be asked to do so, and I was a girl and therefore supposedly better at that sort of thing. I did preface with ” I’m not a parent”, so I may have nulled my contribution.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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