While visiting my marvelous niece and her exceptionally marvelous newborn baby, she mentioned that women who have already raised their children don’t know what it’s like to be a parent in today’s world. This struck me as interesting on many different levels.
I remember having that same exact thought after having my first child; it’s only after that baby has grown a bit or you’ve had your second or third child that you can look back on this phase of your parental evolution and see that the change is less about the world and more about you. You have changed. Your priorities, your worries, your decreased expectation that sleep is something you get to choose. The world is now more demanding but infinitely more fascinating and filled with an indescribable love. Plus, you get to learn some awesome multitasking skills!
Every generation faces unique challenges in life, this generation is no exception. I would argue that the main difference for new parents in 2015 is the Internet — offering a mixed bag of benefits and burdens to the ancient art of parenting. It’s a great place to find bargains for the stroller you want or show you how to install the car seat. But it’s equally a never-ending source of unsolicited advice and distorted parent bragging that can make any rock-solid parent feel insecure, questioning if it’s true: “Should I really only feed my child blue foods?”
When I was raising kids and standing in the checkout lane at the grocery store, the magazines would shout from their rack all of the things I could be doing to be a better parent: “How to create the perfect birthday party!” “Fun and easy Halloween costumes you can make at home!” “Teach your child 12 languages before they enter kindergarten.” Every title offering a suggestion came with the subliminal message that failure to follow the advice was evidence that you weren’t up to this whole parenting thing. It’s hard not to feel insecure when you’re so motivated to be perfect for your obviously perfect child while residing in the imperfect package of a human being.
I could step away from the parenting magazines in the checkout line, maybe read up on what alien has married what celebrity, but you can’t really avoid the Internet. Those photos of your friends and relatives in gorgeously orchestrated family bliss are still going to pop up in your feed.
Mining the Internet for truly helpful information that empowers your parenting mojo instead of inviting in trolls who create chaos with your self- esteem requires some thoughtful navigation. The Internet is great for advice about things that have easily verifiable facts, like “where can I find an indoor playground?” Questions that have long-term consequences like “how do I get my kids to get along with each other?” are best answered by the posse of people closest to you — your friends and family as well as professionals educated in the field of question.
Important parenting advice should be gathered from people important to you, people who are invested in you for the foreseeable future who will be around to be held accountable for their advice. Sift through that advice and take from it what seems right to you. Trust yourself. Yes, others have sailed the parenting seas, but this is your journey and you are the captain. Respecting yourself and recognizing there is no perfect parent smoothes the waters and makes the trip so much more fun!
Jeri Kayser is a child life specialist at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.