There is no consensus on how to raise kids

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on July 18, 2012.

“As time passes we all get better at blazing a trail through the thicket of advice.” —Margot Bennett, Scottish-Australian writer

Last week my family and I were shopping at the mall of Georgia, and while we were at our obligatory stop at the Disney store, I overheard two women chatting about potty training.  It’s one of those conversations that parents are all too familiar with.

I was standing close by because my two-year-old was playing with some toys in a big bin right next to their kids – you know the bins full of small toys that stores use to lure your kids and your wallet inside.  I couldn’t help but smile and nod at the woman who had a child proving difficult to train.  My eldest son had been difficult too.

The other woman was explaining how well her kids responded to the chart with star stickers.  She seemed to have all the answers.  I said that I had wished it had been that easy for me.  This seemed to sooth the woman with the reluctant child.

I was very tired and didn’t mean to engage in a conversation about potty training, so when the woman with the successful potty training strategy began to explain her method in more depth, I nodded politely and only heard half of it.  My husband piped in with a silly comment and then we excused ourselves.

These kinds of conversations happen all the time among parents, and I have all too often listened to a well-meaning mama tell me how to get my kids to eat right, sleep right, behave right or learn right.  I’m sure I’ve bored other parents with my well-meaning advice too.

Later that night my husband and I talked about the episode in the Disney store, and he said whatever your opinion may be, you’ll find some book or article to back it up.  He said there’s really no consensus on how to raise kids.  Well ain’t that the truth? I thought.

The older my kids get, the more I realize that parents are here to guide and encourage them, and certainly we can influence them, but making them do what they don’t want to do can only lead to stress and frustration.  Sometimes it might be the right thing to do, but it’s still going to cause a lot of stress and frustration.

This is why I’ve tried to listen to the advice and then do what feels right for my family and me.  When it’s possible, I try to err on the side of being fairly laid back with the kids and not force them to do things they aren’t ready for.  After the first potty training fiasco, I’m letting my second son take his time with the whole issue.

There’s so much advice circling out there, I’ve tried to stop listening to it too.  It only makes my head hurt and insecurities mount.  And the pressure to do things “right” weighs in on much more important issues than potty training.

For example, I have a friend who’s returning to work after maternity leave.  Her child is adjusting well, but she’s going through the normal emotions of a mother in that situation – guilt, sadness as well as relief.  But I know she’s making the right decision for her family because she carefully weighed all her options and researched childcare facilities.

I told her that though I’m taking a different path, I still get all those emotions.  Sometimes I think it would be much easier to put my kids in school and go back to work.  No path is without uncertainties.

There may not be much consensus on how to raise children, but I think most people can agree that kids need love, attention and respect.  In the end, they will all get potty-trained one way or another.