We’ve become mashed potatoes.
It’s true. When it comes to dealing with our kids, many of us have become paralyzed by fear and self-doubt. We’re afraid that every parenting decision we make will forever alter our children’s futures and land them in an adolescent psychiatrist’s chair at $500 per gripe session.
Say your toddler keeps rifling through the recycling bin and throwing garbage all over the floor. Or your preschooler howls and stomps his feet when you announce that it’s time to leave the playground. Then your daughter puts her jelly-covered face two inches from yours and shouts, “NO!” when you shut off the television.
Instead of just instinctively dealing with our children when they’re behaving badly or need to be taught restraint, too many of us are hamstrung by a bevy of questions buzzing in our heads: What would the parenting experts say? What would the moms in the playgroup do? Now what was that suggestion that the positive thinking parenting guru said on the “Today” show this morning? Meanwhile, you do nothing and perhaps that “learning moment” is lost.
If you dared to teach that precocious toddler the concept of “No” by firmly taking his hand away from the recycling and insisting -- no matter how much he cries -- that he not return there, you might see imaginary magazine headlines flash before you such as: “How to Discipline and Smile at the Same Time” or “How to Distract Toddlers Without Saying ‘No.’”
We are deluged with expert opinions on how we should raise our children. We’re told how to handle every facet of our kids’ existence to virtually guarantee them a well-adjusted childhood and healthy emotional IQs. If we say, “No” too much, we’re told we’ll create an aura of negativity, that the children will tune us out. It’s better, we’re told, to, when we’re in the throes of anger upon finding that our 3-year old has smeared ketchup all over the living room rug to think of “positive-sounding” language and refrain from screaming or invoking, “No.”
If you ask me, all of this well-meaning advice has put us on information overload, and turning us all into lumpy masses of mashed potatoes.
Many parents -- myself included -- are so obsessively worried every time we make a decision that we stop in our tracks. We’re uncertain. Insecure. Worried. And it shows. And our kids will take full advantage.
USA Today recently reported that in national survey of over 1,600 parents, most of those adults didn’t think they were doing a very good job as parents. “Across the board, from teaching kids self-discipline to basic manners, parents give themselves very low grades,” the paper wrote.
I am a poster child of parental indecisiveness. Take my young toddler who has never consistently slept through the night. I’ve read everything I could find -- magazines, web sites, and books about sleeping. I’ve repeatedly consulted my pediatrician. I’ve asked my mom, friends. I’ve tried every suggestion I could find. Nothing has worked.
Yet when I went through the baby sleeping resources, there were plenty of “experts” who sternly and inflexibly said their “solution” was the only way to get my son to sleep, to instill him with healthy habits and leave him feeling loved.
In trying to follow the advice of one of the experts, my husband spent countless evenings rocking our son to an almost-sleeping state, gently placing him in his crib, but immediately picking him up the instant he made a peep, which was the moment his skin touched the sheets. The book said if we let our son cry we were teaching him that the world was cruel and that we didn’t care. The book said that we should stand there all night long, for days on end, trying to get our son to sleep by this method of rocking, putting down and scooping him up if he cried.
Nowhere in that mountain of advice of differing opitions did we find anything that applied directly to our situation, to our child, to our parenting style. The experts didn’t know our son. They didn’t know us or our ability to calmly stand there repetitively rocking and picking up, all night, for days and not feel like our heads were going to burst into flames out of sleep-deprived frustration. My husband and I felt like failures if we let him cry (which didn’t work after four months of trying) because we felt like somewhere, a sleep expert was telling us we were forever ruining our relationship with our son and giving him permanent trust issues.
Why didn’t we just follow our instincts and do what we thought was right instead of lurching around trying to follow “expert” advice that didn’t sound reasonable to us in the first place? Why didn’t we -- after ruling out medical reasons behind the sleep problems -- just make a decision and go for it? Because we’re the mashed potato parenting generation who has lost its innate instincts and replaced them with a pile of “how to” books which leave us confounded when the “how to’s” don’t work for our kids.