Since I’ve moved to Orange County and left my family in San Diego (a temporary situation), I have had limited interactions with my children. I don’t have any funny, anecdotal tales for you about poop or pee or crying or toddler-ignorance. Sorry. Maybe next week.
Today I wanted to write a little something-something on an idea that bothers me, something I have heard more than one parent say with regularity…
I was talking to a friend of mine the other day over a cup of coffee in the Orange Circle. He, like me, is a father. We were trading war stories and the celebratory milestones of our spawn. There was laughter and joyousness as we caught up (I haven’t seen this person in a while) and realized how similar our fatherhood experiences have been.
When we got to the disciplinary section of our meeting, he said something interesting. Apparently he has, on more than one occasion, received advice from non-parents on the disciplinary needs of his children. People without kids have told him how to reprimand his offspring. He told me that he disregarded their advice because they “don’t know what they’re talking about.”
This seems to be a popular opinion. More than one parent I know has lamented the ignorance of The Withouts–those who have not reproduced. After careful consideration I must disagree.
When it comes to discipline, I tend to believe that outsiders should keep their mouths shut, parents or no. Unless asked for advice, all people should bite their tongues when tempted to offer unsolicited advice on timeouts, spankings, and any other such decisions. It’s a sensitive topic and there is an unavoidable subtext of criticism that has a great potential to ruin adult relationships. Just leave it alone.
Having said that, parents could learn a great deal from non-parents. My girls are regularly exposed to five non-biological “uncles” and two non-biological “aunts”. These are close friends of my wife and I, none of whom have children. It is not uncommon for these friends to share parenting tips they’ve read, heard, or experienced in their own upbringing. We talk about what it means to be a father and mother with regularity. And you know what? We’ve learned a lot.
Assuming that non-parents know nothing about parenting is foolish. They have had parents and, more than likely, experienced childhood with an authoritative figure in their lives. These people grew up. They know what it’s like to be a child. They also know what worked or did not work for them. Chances are some of their experiences are different than your own–why not listen? What’s the harm in gaining fresh perspective?
Sometimes parents are too close. We get “zoomed in” on our situations and struggle to see the bigger picture. Friends can offer a refreshing take on what may seem like a stale situation.
My friend Mike and I have spoken more than once about his situation with his estranged father. His experience has influenced my own interactions with my daughters. My buddy Marcel, a teacher, and I talk about the kids he educates on a regular basis, allowing me to snatch a plethora of educational dynamics I may have otherwise missed completely. The list of childless peers goes on, all of whom have an invaluable collection of experiences that makes my wife and I better parents.
Do Withouts understand the undiluted love a parent has for their child? I can’t answer that. I’m not them. I can tell you that there was a shift for me upon the birth of my first daughter, but that’s me. To assume that I have somehow achieved a greater understanding of life because I have reproduced is folly–yeah, I said it: folly. I have no idea what sense of scope other people possess.
I can tell you that one does not need to have reproduced to know children. There are plenty of sociologists, educators, professors, and smart people who have remained kid-less that are far more intelligent to you and I. To ignore their advice seems rather stubborn and downright stupid. Sometimes the withouts know what they’re talking about. They are making statements based on their experiences. If you respect them as a friend, perhaps you should listen.
Your ability to reproduce does not make you smarter. Remember that. Keep educating yourself. Don’t be dismissive. Listen.
Check out the trailer for my new book, in Sanity, AZ: