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What's the Best (or Worst) Parenting Advice You've Ever Gotten?

Posted by Elisabeth Wilkins

There have been a lot of boneheaded parenting moves in the news lately. From the Tanning Bed Mom, who allegedly brought her kindergartner into a tanning booth with her, to the drunken couple in Florida who took their 7-year-old granddaughter on a joy ride by attaching her plastic car to their SUV with a dog leash and then driving around the neighborhood, it leads me to wonder: “Didn’t anyone stop and tell these people that this was a bad idea?”

Don’t get me wrong, I am not a fan of unwanted advice from strangers, family members or friends — the proverbial well-meaning busybody who says things like, “You’re spoiling her!” or “He’s just being a brat!” — without knowing how hard you are working as a parent, and how difficult it can be sometimes to parent your child. No, what I’m talking about here is the voice of reason — a common sense piece of advice that might have helped these parents think a bit before, oh, hitching that toy car to the back of their truck after drinking a few too many beers.

Since Mother’s Day is coming up, I started thinking about all the good advice I’ve gotten as a parent. Here are my top contenders:

1. Listen to your child. This one comes from my own mom. We didn’t always see eye to eye when I was growing up — during the teen years, we fought constantly and I was fairly out of control, I have to admit — but when I had a problem, my mom always listened to me.  It kept our relationship strong under the surface, even when we were fighting every day. She wasn’t perfect (who is?) but she was loving, honest and supportive, and for that, I am so grateful — and we still have a strong relationship today because of it.

2. Always ask yourself, “What does my child need from me right now?” This one comes from James Lehman, who was my great teacher and friend. James’ point was not that parents should do everything for their child, but instead, to think about what your child really needs in the moment, whether it’s to be told, “No, you can’t go to the party,” to have a consequence set for inappropriate behavior, or for you to listen and be empathetic.  James’ other great lesson for me: “It’s not about who’s to blame for your child’s behavior, it’s about who’s willing to take responsibility next.”

3. Over-praising kids doesn’t do them any favors. This advice comes from my husband Joe, who said these words to me when our son was a toddler. Kids know when you’re being honest, and they also know when adults aren’t telling the truth. Saying “good job” when your child really didn’t do very well does them a disservice in the end. (This is something I still have to work on changing in myself. Sometimes my nine-year-old son will remind me, “No Mom, actually I didn’t do a good job. I screwed up.”) It’s always important to remember that self-esteem, in children and adults, comes from real accomplishments.

4. When you need something from your child, you become vulnerable to him/her because he/she doesn’t have to give it to you. Debbie Pincus, a contributor here at EP and the author of The Calm Parent AM & PM, gives this wise advice to parents. My son is more of a realist and likes to draw me into arguments by complaining about anything and everything, while I tend to (almost pathologically) look on the bright side. As soon as heard Debbie’s words, I knew that I was trying to turn Alex into an optimist, and I realized that he is never going to be a Polly Anna, no matter what I do — and I wouldn’t want him to be! It was causing a lot of arguments between us because I wouldn’t let things go, but now I’ve learned to say, “Oh, uh huh,” when he makes a negative remark and tries to pull me in, instead of trying to convince him that there’s a rainbow wrapped around a turd.

Now it’s your turn — what’s the best (or worst) parenting advice you’ve ever gotten?

And Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms out there — I want you to know that your questions, comments and the stories you tell on Empowering Parents have moved me to cheer, laugh and sometimes to cry. At the end of the day, the best goal sometimes really is  just to be a “good enough” mom.


About Elisabeth Wilkins

Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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