My dad once told me to be careful what you choose to get good at.
I never really understood his point until years later. Turns out, I’m really good at giving parenting advice—and this, my friend, is not what I’d set out to do. Over the last six years, since my first child was born, I’ve lost track of the number of essays, how-tos, and lists I’ve written about being a better parent.
And while they’ve all come from an honest place, they’ve also come with a twinge of guilt for perpetuating and enabling the Baby Advice Industrial Complex. See, I’ve thrived even as I’ve ignored most of what the baby-advice industry has to say.
If you’re a new parent, the pressure to be perfect starts as soon as it’s time to put together your baby registry. I spent hours reading websites to figure out the best crib, stroller, car seat, bottles, pacifiers, shoes, bibs, and so on. I was so overwhelmed by the abundance of options, each taunting my commitment to motherhood even before there was a baby to mother.
The truth is, no amount of gadgets will stop a baby from crying, pooping, being gassy, and making you want to cry from time to time, too. In my experience, babies love free things—kisses, hugs, walks, and snuggles. The rest exists to make parents feel better about themselves.
Once the baby is here and growing, however, it doesn’t take long to realize that perfection isn’t the real goal. The real goal is getting through the day with your sanity intact.
Unsurprisingly, this is where the juiciest of baby advice comes into play. How to get a baby to sleep, how to get them to eat, how to talk, how not to talk, what to buy, what to avoid buying. We reach for this stuff in our most desperate hour, sleep-deprived, spirits dampened, hoping that someone out there has figured out a way to do this better.
Good news: Someone has. Bad news: It won’t work for your kid.
The other day, I asked my almost-ninety-year-old grandma how she dealt with parenting anxiety while raising her five children. She looked at me like I was unhinged. So then I asked my mother how she came to be the world’s best mom, and her look was even more evidence of how pathetic my question was.
Wouldn’t it be funny if parenting columns were written by people who have completely forgotten how they managed to raise happy and well-adjusted adults?
It would be the first column where the advice never changes no matter the question: Stop trying so hard and get a life.
The truth is that no matter how much we read and prepare, we’re all destined to be good parents and the worst parents at one point or another.
In his classic A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway wrote this
about overcoming writer’s block: “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”
At some point in my parenting journey, I realized that this advice works just as well for fending off parenting blues. My truest sentence goes something like this: I have three children who eat up all my time and money, who are always there (even when I have to pee), and whom I need more than they need me.
I know that I’ve become a kinder and better human since I had children. Even during my worst parenting hour, I have no doubt that they love me, and I them. I’ve resisted the urge to constantly fix the way things are. I’ve learned that things work themselves out on their own more often than not, and that a little bit of chaos is good.
And I’ve discovered that, when making decisions, it’s better to trust my gut than a website. This is the best parenting advice I can offer.
CHIKA GUJARATHI is a Raleigh-based writer and author of the Hello Namaste! children’s books. Her work can be found on her blog The Antibland Chronicles.
NEXT WEEK: JONATHAN WEILER, a teaching professor in global studies at UNC-Chapel Hill and co-author of Prius or Pickup? How the Answers to Four Simple Questions Explain America’s Great Divide and Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics.
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