I always think long and hard when people ask me for parenting advice. I tell them it was all I could do to parent our own children; I’m not about to advise them on how to parent theirs.
The real danger is once you start dispensing advice, it automatically casts you as an expert and nothing invites disaster like billing yourself as an expert.
That said, when I do have a momentary lapse of discretion and dispense parenting advice, it is often the advice my mother gave me.
She once told me the best thing I could do was get my nose out of a book.
I closed the book I was reading on how to get your baby to sleep, setting it down on top of a book on getting your baby to eat solid foods, which was on top of a book on the importance of playtime with your baby, which was on top of a book about talking to your baby, which was on top of a book on cultivating your baby’s interests in physics, engineering and computer science.
I didn’t know why my mother would object to me reading books. All of the books were by credentialed experts — one or two of whom even had children of their own.
It was years before I fully understood what my mother meant.
She meant it was time to stop reading and start doing. It was time to go with my gut and my heart and become the expert on knowing my own children.
She was right, of course. Mothers always are. At least that’s what I tell our kids.
My heart told me that babies and children need the same things grown-ups need — to be known, loved, encouraged, given opportunities to learn and grow, fail and try again.
My instincts told me that children need boundaries, correction, forgiveness and second chances. A lot of what my heart and instincts told me was similar to what the experts were telling me, but without the cost of a hardcover book.
I knew my heart was a good guide amid squeals of laughter, sounds of play and overwhelming love for another human being.
I also knew that parenting would be one of the hardest jobs I’d ever had. Sleepless nights and spit up on my shoulder made me a fast learner.
This job would require a selflessness with which I was unaccustomed. It would require a strange tension of holding them close and simultaneously letting them go. I also knew it would be seasonal work and that this season would never pass my way again.
My mother’s heart told me that my children would learn many marvelous things from books, but the most important things — like how to live life, how to treat others and how to find their way and make sense of this world — they would most likely learn from watching their father and me. Warts and all.
Books and experts can be wonderful resources, but nobody will ever know your child like you do. Nobody will ever love your child like you do.
You get one chance at this parenting gig. Give it your all.
Lori Borgman is a columnist, author and speaker. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.