05 April 2006

Advice from the original Hip Mama

Ariel Gore, creator of Hip Mama: The Parenting Zine, and author of a memoir (Atlas of the Human Heart), several parenting books (The Mother Trip, The Hip Mama Survival Guide, Whatever, Mom), and a new novel (The Traveling Death and Resurrection Show), recommends that we take all the unsolicited advice with a grain of salt:

Never listen to anyone's advice with regard to how much or how little you are doing for your kid. Of all the parenting "advice" I've gotten over the years, ninety percent of it has actually been unasked-for criticism that I am either neglectful, or, alternately, "hovering." The worst thing about these judgments is that they usually include dire predictions about the horrible consequences my kid will suffer for my sins (either she's going to die of neglect or be crippled by over-parenting). I've gotten literally thousands of these off-handed comments and overwrought analyses in the past 16 years. The predictions included: She will never learn to walk; she will walk too early and her legs will be malformed; she will never learn to read; she will develop long-lasting anxiety with regard to reading; She will fear leaving the house; She has left the house too soon! She will be kidnapped!; She will not know how to catch a bus if you ever let her leave the house; She'll never get a job and won't move out until she is 40; She will run away at 13! Well...The kid's only 16 years old, but my neglect and hovering notwithstanding, she learned to walk, read, leave the house, catch a bus, get a job, and drive a car on her own dang time. Knock wood, the kid is all right.

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This is great! My sentiments entirely. Not sure why but well-meaning "advice" rubs me up the wrong way most every time it is given. I seem to attract it from complete strangers - I've even been "told off" by a very young teenager for turning away from my baby in a pushchair while I used an ATM. The baby could have been stolen apparently. Sure, she could have but what "the teenager" didn't know is that my peripheral vision was on the baby, the brake was on the pushchair, the baby was strapped in, and if anyone came within a centimetre of my child to steal her away - I would scratch their eyes out. I'd also had no sleep and a hard day so far and was in need of support, encouragement and reassurance. Some of you may share "the teenager's" viewpoint, and that's really cool by me, but I think I know that you would have spoken quietly and with empathy, aware that it's tough enough without any hindrance.

Sorry for the ferocity but that experience really upset me and I don't really know why!

The thing that seems to make a massive difference for me is whether the advice is solicited or unsolicited. Again, not completely sure why for me the diffence IS SO massive, but there it is!!!

Anyway - cheers to Ariel!

Ariel, this post couldn't have come on a better day for me. Thanks for this.

I only take parenting advice from parents whose kids I enjoy. This narrowed the Greek chorus of advice down to a very manageable two or three people to whom I listen. After all, why listen to someone's advice when their kid is a spoiled brat? I also don't listen to parenting advice from people without children, or from people who have children that I haven't met (like our family doctor). And strangers? They don't even hit the radar.

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