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Saturday, January 3, 2015

15 minutes about the only advice I'd give

We spent Thanksgiving week with family in the mountains this year. I highly recommend it. Especially if you are staying at a resort with an indoor water park, and if that resort has a leak over your room, causing it to flood and you have to move and as an apology, the resort gives you all free week-long passes to the water park.

But this isn't about that. This is about something my brother said as we were getting ready to head into Dollywood with all of the kids. He said "I don't think I would take parenting advice from just anyone, but if I ever have kids, I'll be happy to take any parenting advice you have." It was quite a complement, and I was flattered. I'm not sure what made him say it because well, you know, traveling with kids can bring out the worst in all of us. Anyways, I'll take it. That got me to thinking. I don't like to give advice, especially unsolicited advice, but I began to wonder what the one piece of advice would be that I would give to new parents, then that led to what I would tell newlyweds. So, here's my advice, as I see it.

Newlyweds/Engaged couples
The best advice we were given was to always live on one income. That way, we were never dependent on two incomes and we could put all of one spouse's money in savings if we were both working. This served us well. I believe that it has kept us out of debt (along with always keeping  budget) and freed me up to be a stay at home mom for as long as I wanted once we had kids.

The second best advice I ever heard was actually recent, and it came from Rachel Held Evans. She said that, instead of studying the gender of the person you are marrying, you should study the actual person. When I was getting ready to get married, I read a lot of books on marriage, which I highly recommend, but they tend to generalize a lot when it comes to male/female gender roles. For example, there is one theory out there that women need love and men need respect, so each spouse should work hard to give the other one the thing that his/her gender requires most. The thing is, many of our marital skirmishes have started with me not feeling respected, and the typical mushy lovey stuff is nice enough but not as important to me.

New parents
This one is harder. I typically assume that what new parents, or any parents for that matter, need is really just some affirmation. Yes, parenting is hard and awesome. And important. And whatever you feel is best is probably what you should do. There are so many awesome (and many not awesome) parenting books out there. Add Pinterest and Facebook and what parents really need is a dumping ground for all of the advice they are getting. So, if I'm going to give some advice...I guess it would be to remember that no one knows you and your baby like you do. Be willing to try it all, but realize that you are the only expert on your baby and your family. Some folks do great with family bed, others would go insane if they didn't get some space at night. Some parents think schedules are awesome, others feel restricted by them. I find that different phases call for different tactics, and it's ok to change your game plan up once in  while.

Oh, and another one - discipline is not about making your child a better person, it's about creating order in your home and making your children more fun to be around. No, it's not selfish. Your children will be much better off if other people like having them around. They will also benefit from sane parents. We get strict about bedtime because we have to have some kid free time before we go to bed. It makes us better parents. However, discipline does not train a child's heart. It does not teach them about kindness and respect and emotional self-regulation. It seems, from my limited parenting experience, that these things can only be taught by modeling. But don't worry, if your kids make you snap and you aren't very kind for a few minutes (been there), it's also important to model asking for forgiveness and talk over proper expression of negative emotions together. Nobody's perfect.

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