No Advice From Me| June 15, 2021
Here’s the truth: I’m not a parenting expert. I’m just a parent
"Oh, you would be a good person to ask!”
I was sitting at a seudah, juggling the demands of my children, when my cousin spoke up. I froze. History has proven that in most cases, I am not a good person to ask.
“Okaaaay,” I answered slowly. “I’m probably not the person you’re looking for, but what’s your question?”
“Well, you have a bunch of boys, right?”
“How do you keep them from fighting with each other all the time?”
I looked at her for a solid minute before answering with all the sincerity that I possessed, “I genuinely apologize if I’ve mistakenly given the impression that I’d be able to answer this question successfully.”
“But… but… you have boys!”
“Yes, I do. And they fight on and off with each other all day. Sometimes they’re best friends and sometimes they’re not friends at all. My three- and four-year-old once woke up and before their eyes were open, they started hitting each other. Before they were fully conscious!”
I take a breath. “What I’m trying to say is that if there’s a secret to stopping your children from fighting with each other, I have no clue what it is.”
I could feel her disappointment radiating toward from across the table and I felt bad that I couldn’t be more helpful.
But here’s the truth: I’m not a parenting expert. I’m just a parent.
All children, however, are expert children. They excel at the Terrible Twos. They are amazing at the Terrifying Threes. I’m quite certain one of my kids is going to be the valedictorian of the Felonious Fours.
If you do the math, it does seem that expert children deserve expert parenting, but all I’ve got are the small bits of wisdom I’ve managed to glean from previous mistakes I’ve made.
As a public service that no one has asked for, I’ll list a few handy parenting tips, while asking you to keep in mind that I’m probably still not the person you should be looking to for parenting advice.
Tip #1: Know Your Audience
Do not tell your four- or five-year-old to be careful not to drop food on the floor because we don’t want any ants to come into our house to eat the food left on the floor.
Ten minutes later, you’ll walk into the room to find them strategically placing crackers on the floor as they wait with breathless anticipation. Creating an ant haven is their actual dream.
Tip #2: Understanding Art
If a child finds scraps of paper around the house and glues them onto a discarded gift bag, the result is not glued garbage, as one might think. It is now A Project and it must be kept and cherished and stored for all eternity.
This shiny bag that once held a beautiful gift but is now adorned with scraps of an old bar mitzvah invitation and the last page of your water bill will be on display in your home for guests and family members alike to ooh and aah over.
Warning: if you attempt to dispose of this project, do so only in the dead of the night by placing it in a plastic bag, weighing it down with cement bricks and then tossing it over a bridge.
We know you don’t need last week’s shopping list stuck to a gift bag until the end of time, but your child doesn’t know this. And if they discover their precious project in the trash, you will have a lot of explaining to do.
Tip #3: Beware of Picky Eaters
When your picky eater expresses avid interest in the food that you are currently (finally!) getting a chance to eat, treat him with the suspicion he deserves. He will exhibit such intense interest in your food that one could almost describe it as longing. Wanting to expand his limited food options, you will heroically and maternally give up your food to this worthy cause. Whereupon he will stab it with his straw and pour orange juice on it.
You will realize that being heroic and maternal does not feel as super rewarding as you had imagined.
And now you’re both hungry.
Tip #4: No One Warned You
Before having kids, you probably had it all worked out. You probably knew in your soul what type of parent you’d be, and what your home would look like, and how your children would behave as they interact with each other and the world.
And now you have kids.
And one day you hear yourself saying, “Everyone stop trying to stick donuts to the ceiling!” And you add this phrase to the list of things you never thought you’d have to say out loud.
It’s not your fault. There’s literally no way you could have seen that coming. You just need to pick yourself up and carry on.
Tip #5: Manage Your Expectations
If it turns out that baking with your children for Yom Tov is not the rewarding experience you’ve envisioned, and if you’ve come to realize that with the help of your children, a 20-minute recipe takes three hours to make and you spend most of that time responding to your child who keeps saying, “Is this part hot? Can I touch this? Is it very hot or only a little hot? If I touch this now, will it hurt? How about now?”
And when the baking is finally done you find yourself in the kitchen with an angry toddler who is beside himself that the circle cookie didn’t change into a different shape while in the oven and also he doesn’t want the sprinkles on top, he wants them on the side, and suddenly everyone is crying, you should know that it’s okay to reward yourself by eating all the cookies instead.
Tip #6: Travel Safety
Always keep in mind that it doesn’t matter what snacks you pack when you head out on a road trip with your children. Whatever you bring, they’ll want the type of snack you left at home. There’s also a zero percent chance that any two children will agree to listen to the same CD in the car at the same time and you will attempt to bribe one of them to listen to the CD that his brother wants to hear, which has suddenly become his least favorite CD in the whole world, and all you have in the car to bribe him with are the snacks he hates since you left the snacks he loves at home.
There are so many more mistakes I’ve made and lessons I’ve learned along the way that I’d love to share but we’re running out of time and space, and besides, this isn’t an advice column, remember?
However, if any readers would be interested in a seminar such as “Bedtime Negotiations 101” and motivational workshops like the well-received “How to Live Your Life with the Same Amount of Dedication and Focus as a Child Who Is Trying to Hit His Brother Last,” I can be contacted through Mishpacha.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 747)
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