After I gave birth to my son, I noticed that several of my friends proudly fell into one of two camps: They either wanted kids, or they Certainly Do Not, Thank You Very Much. I always knew that I wanted a kid or two, and I have one: a 2-year-old boy who loves basketball, reading, roller derby, and music. Because we have so many friends without kids, I constantly wonder what they think of parenting in general, but sometimes my own parenting as well. Other parents can be vocal about what they feel is best for baby, but I feel like as a whole, my friends don't really offer unsolicited judgment on the way I live my life, and I'm incredibly grateful for that. Even so, I wondered what would happen if I asked my friends without kids for parenting advice?
I don’t ask really ever ask them for advice, and they don’t offer. Of course, maybe once in awhile we'll have a conversation that might turn to a suggestion on what I should do: "You should read him this awesome book,” or “You should go to a basketball game; has he been to a basketball game?” or “You should NOT take him on an airplane, ever.” Their comments have never bothered me mainly because I just don’t tend to go deep into kid issues with non-parent friends. Since our lives as parents are so riddled with people giving us advice even when we don’t ask for it, I couldn't resist the nagging urge to find out what would happen if they gave me advice.
I ask my friends with kids for advice sometimes for the day-to-day headaches and questions, but what if I asked my childless friends for advice on raising my son? I decided to see what kind of wisdom came from the other side. Just because someone doesn’t have kids doesn’t mean that they don’t love kids (and it doesn’t mean they do because, kids are loud and messy), or that they don’t have their own perspective.
There were no boundaries and no guidelines. OK, one person I asked for specific advice that pertains to her profession, but everyone else? Anything went. None of them have human children, though some have animals that they might consider on the same level. What would they offer up as advice when asked?
I spent a week trying to find out, and here’s what happened.
“Never Give In To A Toddler Tantrum, Even In Public.”
I asked a friend if she had any advice for me as a mom — any at all. This friend doesn’t have any kids, but she clearly loves them, and acts as my son’s self-appointed Faux Aunt.
Is there any wood to knock on in here? Because my kid has never had a memorable tantrum in public. Maybe he’s yelled a bit, but who doesn’t get a little mouthy after a few glugs of milk? At this point, I don’t really know how to differentiate a “tantrum” from a very loud complaint or a serious emotional letdown. I really don’t. Sometimes I tell my kid that I’m going to go to a different room, and he yells “NOOOO,” and throws himself on the floor. Then I’m like, “Uh, hey, buddy, it’s all right, you can come with me or you can keep doing what you’re doing,” and he yells until I come back. Maybe it's a tantrum, but I see it as just another moment in the thrilling timeline that’s my parenting life.
After I thought about this lack of tantrums, with all this self-congratulating relief (phew, good thing my child is inherently wonderful!), we went to the airport to greet some friends. He kept asking to be picked up as we were waiting, and I kept picking him up as long as he asked nicely. When he started to get a little fussy, I noticed a little side-eye shot my way. So I just held him, and didn’t think much of it, except that my arm got tired.
Later, I realized that maybe my kid doesn’t have tantrums because we pretty much give him what he wants, within reason. He wanted to be picked up, and as long as he said, “Up please,” I picked up all 30 pounds of him. He wanted a snack “now,” so I told him he had to wait until our friends came, and so we did, and then he got his snack. Am I just a totally skilled parent, or lucky, or spoiling him?
He’s 2. He’s not perfect. If taking deep breaths, having a talk, and trying again counts as “giving in to a tantrum,” then I totally do that. Several times a day. And I’m comfortable with that. But I may have done a bad job following my friend’s advice.
Another friend told me, later in the week, that if a toddler has a tantrum, you should have a tantrum along with them. Throw yourself at the floor! Say “NO NO, NO, NO!” Rend your garments, gnash your teeth! This one I’m keeping in my back pocket, just in case I need it. I spend enough time on the floor these days. Might as well see if it works.
“Start Them On A Hobby Young.”
A drummer friend told us to get the toddler playing drums. Young.
So we did.
Luckily, we have a drum set in our house. Unluckily, everything else in the house is a drum (or a trumpet, or a washboard, because he’s into Dixieland jazz at the moment) when our toddler wants it to be. I found myself saying a few days ago: “Ah, does your giraffe make a good drum stick?” After lunch a few days later, I tried to ask my husband a question, but decided to wait until the drumming stopped or at least marched off into another room. No dice. “JUST YELL,” my husband encouraged, from five feet away. So: Yes. Drums. Young. We’re on this one. Checked off the list.
But, to be honest, I often deflect the toddler’s requests for “drums and cymbals,” as he puts it. He’s 2 years old, ya know. He gets his own set of drumsticks, and we tell him to do “gentle taps,” but he gets excited, and sometimes it’s easier to guide him away from the drums altogether rather than deal with it. This day, though, I let toddler rock out to his heart’s content. It was a little bit of a pain to stand there saying, “Gentle, please” a thousand times, but go figure: It was a lot more fun for me once I picked up my own set of drumsticks and started jamming along with him. It was more fun for him, too.
“Cut Your Kid's Hair!"
A hair stylist friend gave me some toddler hair-cutting advice, now that I can convince my child to let me cut it. First, she told me to set him down in front of an episode of Daniel Tiger. OK, that first part was my own invention. Then, use point cuts. No blunt lines. Fine hair shows the lines, and then your little angel looks kinda well, strange. I should’ve asked for follow up advice: How do I prevent this from looking like a bowl cut? But you can only ask your professional friends for so much free advice, you know? She’s probably busy travelling by herself for a mix of business and pleasure, anyway.
To be honest, if he lets me give him a buzz cut, I’m just going to go for that pretty soon. I’ve never trusted myself to cut my own bangs — why would I trust myself to cut my kid’s bangs when he’s a moving target?
I loved that I had a particular friend to give me such a specific piece of parenting advice. Cutting his hair doesn't exactly fall on the top of the "need to know" parenting specifics, but it was funny to get her advice on what she felt was really important.
“Treat Your Kid Like Your Pet.”
Without knowing, several people I asked randomly gave me similar advice:
Treat your child like an animal.
I get it, you’re trying to be funny. Except the friend who suggested I put my son on a leash. She was serious. (She also was talking about when she was a kid with several brothers and sisters, whereas my one is a lot easier to keep track of.) To the others, I joked right back, “Well, unfortunately, I don’t have the budget for that.” This, while skirting the issue, is true. I’m not going to 1) put a muzzle on my child for the sake of a joke, or 2) purchase a muzzle, for crying out loud.
I’m all about commitment to a bit, but come on. This one felt a little mean (even if that wasn't the intention.) So, no, I did not purchase any items that are meant for animals. I did not learn anything from this except that my friends are a bunch of heathens.
It would've been different if my friends suggested that I love my kid like they love their animals — wholly and completely. That would've been a piece of parenting advice I could absolutely get behind. Instead, I felt like they used the opportunity to be crass rather than considerate, and I was a little bit bothered that they thought suggesting that might be something I'd be into. My son may soon be in the throes of the Terrible Twos and yes, he may be a huge pain from time to time, but he's still my son, and more than that, he's a person.
“Have More Fun!”
This was some of the most sincere advice I got, from an acquaintance who’s one of those “love the nieces and nephews and then hand them back tot heir parents,” auntie types.
I thought long and hard about her advice. It seemed so simple on the outset, but it's also one of the most important (and toughest) parenting lessons to learn. As a parent, I work, take care of the house, and take care of my all day. When he goes to sleep, if we’re lucky, my partner and I get a break, but a lot of of the time we just keep on working and taking care of all the things we didn't get to throughout the day. Even the basics, like laundry and dishes, can be hard to keep up with.
It’s nice, in a way, to get “permission” from people to not worry about the house, but, you know, I can only take that to a point. My house being clean is important to me. Since I'm the one who has to live in it, it's important to me that it's looked after and cared for. The "permission" to let things be messy didn't really feel like a compliment.
Even so, it was a good reminder to do the laughing and dancing as often as possible, even if my kid is a little young. It’s too easy to go through an entire day by going through the motions, and never really getting bone-deep silly, when this is the greatest opportunity in my life to do so. I have the BEST audience, and he thinks I'm the funniest person he's ever met. To celebrate this advice, we held a couple of dance parties in honor of the advice. When it comes down to it, I’m sure I’ll never regret those toddler Otis Redding dance parties (though the laundry DOES need to get done, eventually).
“Don’t Give Up What You Love For Kids.”
When I had my son, I gave up my amateur athletic career. Or, in other words, I gave up being mediocre at roller derby and working really hard at it. There’s no way I could play competitively anymore, with the way our schedule works, and I don’t have that drive, either. But I love skating. I love feeling my body move and be strong. I love messing up and laughing about it. I love feeling my body operate in a way that feels true. And I haven’t skated in months.
So, with this advice in mind, I changed the way I thought about my schedule. I made sure my work was done ahead of time so I could go to practice without feeling bad. I even made sure that I got some work done while I was in that part of town. It felt good. Then, I went forth and … realized I wasn’t sure what time that rec league practice was actually happening at. Then my email inbox blew up in my face and I had dozens of things to take care of.
I didn’t practice that day or take the time out for myself.
But I will.
Did My Friends Without Kids Pass On The Best Wisdom?
Parents know that kids change our entire lives. It’s a cliché, it’s true, and everyone knows it whether they’ve had a kid of their own or not. On a day to day basis, the need to provide 24/7 care for my child pretty much dictates the schedule for my husband and I. First we figure out who needs to work when, and based on that, we figure out when each one of us in charge.
Luckily taking care of the kid part-time and working for myself part-time is pretty much what I want to do in this part of my life. I quit my 40-hour desk job when my son was 6 months old, and even when money is tight, I never ever regret it. This is something I thought about on this day, as I raked the leaves for my toddler to run and jump into: Geez, I could be at my old job, copying and pasting the same reply into an email for the 500 time. Or I could be outside with my son on this blessedly non-rainy day. It was an easy decision.
Taking advice from my friends without kids just showed me what I already knew to be true: You don’t know what it’s like to have kids until they’re plunked down in front of you. But I love my friends, and they have a lot of smart things to say — especially about parenting.