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Unsolicited Parenting Advice That Was Actually Helpful

Ricardo Díaz

Every parent receives plenty of unsolicited advice. Most of it is irritating, maybe even infuriating; often, it’s utterly useless. Sometimes, though, there are a few real, honest kernels that resonate and make a difference. I’ve been thinking about the mounds of advice that others have so “generously” shared with me throughout the past 18 years that I’ve been a parent. These five gems of wisdom were actually helpful.

From the parent of one of my students (I’m an elementary school teacher): “If you believe that there is something medically wrong with your child and the doctor tells you you’re wrong, find another doctor. Trust your gut.”

This mom shared with me the story of her oldest son, whom she believed had a problem as an infant. Her pediatrician dismissed her concerns; she went to a specialist, and her son was in surgery hours later. The problem was real, it was corrected, and her son grew up happy and healthy with no lingering medical problems.

While my own experience has not been as serious as hers, all of my three sons have food sensitivities, and removing certain foods from their diets solved multiple medical problems, but it took years to find a doctor who was supportive and believed me.

From the wife of an Orthodox rabbi: “Keep talking. Even when they act like they’re not listening.

This mom of six children and grandmother of many more  told me that it is important to be explicit in conveying my values and hopes and dreams for my children. She told me that it is not enough to just live your life a certain way and expect your children to somehow understand why you’ve made the choice to live that way and why you’d like them to live a certain way.

You have to actually have those conversations. If they happened to be in the kitchen while she was making dinner, she would casually tell stories of her life while they were “not listening.” I have followed her advice, and I see that it matters. I know my boys are listening when they ask me clarifying questions or I hear them repeating these same stories to their friends.

From one of my colleagues:  “Always be ready to stop what you are doing and just listen.

This colleague shared many stories of how it was always at a very inconvenient and completely unexpected time that one of her kids would want to talk to her about something important. So, she’d put down the laundry basket and sit on the stairs, or turn off the pot of boiling water and lean on the kitchen counter to listen.

The other things could wait, but the connection and communication with her children couldn’t. At our house, that means that sometimes our dinner is late, or the clothes remain dirty, but I do my best to be ready to listen to my boys whenever they want to talk.

From my son’s speech therapist: “Do not ever underestimate your child’s potential.”

In my efforts to accept that my son had a real problem and was not meeting developmental milestones on time, I tried to temper my worries by not setting what I considered unreasonable expectations. This therapist pushed against my sad, defeatist resignation and insisted that I keep my expectations high. She was right, and years later there is no longer any developmental difference between my son and his peers.

From the wife of a Conservative rabbi: “Parenting is just a long series of letting go. It’s heartbreaking, but that’s actually the way it is supposed to be.”

When my first son went away to sleepaway camp at the age of 10, I was a mess. (My son, for his part, was totally fine.) But I was having trouble getting through each day until this wise mom explained to me that this is what parenting is all about. You spend loads of intense time bonding with them when they’re little, and then you spend years saying goodbye, first in little ways and then in big ones. This is how kids (and parents) grow.

Image: Ricardo Díaz

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