Monday, August 18, 2014

5 Pieces of Parenting Advice I’m Tired of Hearing

5 Pieces of Parenting Advice I’m Tired of Hearing

Five years ago, when Stevie and I found out we were going to be parents, the first good, usable piece of parenting advice we received was this: 

“Take all parenting advice with a grain of salt. Everyone thinks they’re an expert. Use what you think is useful for you, in your situation, and just let the rest go.” 

And so we have. Some advice has hit home and made us better parents. The advice that we don’t agree with, or doesn't fit, gets tossed out the window to roll away in the dust behind the minivan. 

The problem is that no matter how many times we leave it behind, a few of the same annoying pieces keep chasing us down the highway. Here are five of them:

Don’t buy gender specific toys. 


My girl can love pink and Disney Princesses and Tinker Bell if she damn well wants to. Sure, we tried to go with gender-less toys. We also tried going with toys marketed to both genders. We swore our baby girl wouldn't be covered in pink. We failed. She loves pink. She wants to be a princess. She wants to be a fairy. She wants to have tea parties. Yes, Batman is invited from time to time, but not nearly as often as Anna, Elsa, and Rapunzel.

Here’s what I do instead. I try to find lessons from whatever she’s into that empower her - Tinker Bell for instance. Do you know why she is called Tinker Bell? It is because she is a tinker fairy. A tinker fairy takes random parts from the environment, puts them together into a machine, and then uses those machines to make Fairy Hollow a better place. Yep, Tinker Bell is an engineer. Yesterday, while watching Secret of the Wings for the 43rd time, Duchess asked me, “Dad, what kind of fairy would you want to be?” There are also fast fairies, water fairies, plant fairies, etc. 

“I would want to be a tinker fairy like Tinker Bell.”


“Because Tinker Bell looks at things and doesn't just see what they are, she sees what they can become. I think that is really neat.”

“Yeah, me too.”

I can’t control what she likes, but I can learn about it, be engaged in it, and if I look hard enough I can find lessons in anything. I imagine in a few years I will be doing the same thing with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

(Note: If either kid wants toys that are primarily marketed to the other gender, that is fine with me too. It just isn't the way their individual tastes have panned out so far.)

Don’t let them watch DVD’s in the van.

This also comes in the form of, “Don’t let them have hand-held games, phones, or any screen time.” It is usually accompanied by calls to engage them in the outside world while driving because if they are busy watching the Lego Movie, then they are missing the grandeur of nature while simultaneously failing to develop cognitive skills for interpersonal communication! Instead of letting them play Letter Lab on the iPad, or watch Tangled on the overhead, I should really be playing “I spy” or “the license plate game” or “car colors” with them.  

Look, when I am driving a two-ton minivan going 75 mph down an interstate highway in varying degrees of traffic, my focus is not on childhood development. My focus is on the road. I’m not running a preschool, I am driving a vehicle. When we get to the ocean or the national park there will be plenty of time for nature walks, and interesting facts about butterflies. If my wife is in the van, sure, we rotate activities. There are crayons and toys and games and song singing, but when the kids get sick of those after 5-10 minutes apiece, we’re going to throw in Frozen. If a few hours of Frozen can keep them entertained while we drive the post-apocalyptic waste land that is the road between Wendover and Reno, I’m perfectly fine with them not looking out the window. 

Don’t buy junk food for your kids. 

I’m the cook in our family. I take great pride in creating amazing meals with fresh ingredients. When my daughter tells people that her favorite food is cherry-tomatoes a tinge of parental superiority grows a bit bigger in my belly. That is, until you ask my kid what her second favorite food is – mini corn dogs.   

Tucked in the freezer behind the back-up bin of frozen spinach, and the super fruits, is a giant box of frozen mini-corn dogs. Next to the corn dogs is a box of chicken nuggets, which is hiding a box of frozen “fish” sticks. I’m done feeling guilty about them. 

Our nights are on a pretty tight schedule. After I pick up the kids from daycare, I have about a 45 minute window to have dinner ready by the time Stevie gets home. If anything delays me from the time I get off work, to the time I get home and start chopping vegetables, that time comes out of dinner prep. I imagine this is a pretty typical situation for a lot of parents. So yeah, sometimes I grab a handful of mini-corn dogs and toss them on a cookie sheet for the kids. Sometimes, if I am running really late I stop by ::gasp:: McDonald’s on the way home and grab dinner for them. It may not be optimal, but it is reality. You can stop telling me what I already know.  

Control your kids in public. 

OK, yes. You should control your kids in public. I don’t mind this advice in general, as long as it is in this context: “You should make a consistent effort to keep your children under control and, when possible, not have a negative effect on the experiences of others in common spaces.” That is good advice that, honestly, hasn't popped up much for us personally, but the one time it did was enough for it to make the list.

My problem with it comes when a stranger takes an unflattering snap shot of your life and then uses it as the perfect opportunity to deliver their advice in the wild – and by in the wild I mean the Jelly-Aisle at Walmart.

“You should control your kid.”

You’re right. I should. Right now, I can’t. No one can. I can sure try, and trust me, the fit my kid is currently having is bugging me a lot more than it is bugging you. Sure, your ear drums may be on the verge of rupturing from the infidecible screams emanating from my flailing three year old -- screams that are so loud that I had to make up a new adjective that combines the word infinity and decibel. And sure, you’d really like to look at the assortment of jams and jellies behind which this temper tantrum is taking place. I get how frustrating it is. I really do. But do you know what factor is missing from your experience that exists in mine, making mine infinitely worse? You. Not only do I get to deal with my kid, her screaming and flailing, and my inability to select a jam of my choosing. I also get a nice thick layer of embarrassment on top of the chaos. Your eye roles, annoyed gasping, and requests for me to “control my kid” do nothing to help.

See, here’s the thing. My kid is under control 99% of the time. Really, she is quite adorable and well behaved. You just happen to be here during the 1% of the time that Mount Kidsuvious is erupting. I promise that she and I have regular talks about how people should behave. We do a healthy mix of positive reinforcement and consequences. Trust me, when I get her out of the store and in a more controllable environment, there are going to be consequences. But nothing you have contributed to the situation is going to help at all. Please just move on, keep your angry advice in your head, and buy your paper towels first. The jelly will still be here long after I have thrown my kid over my shoulder and carried her out of the store. 

Parenting gets easier.

Older parents and grandparents like to say this one when you’re feeling overwhelmed. It is always with good intentions, and I don’t fault them for saying it. I just keep finding myself thinking that sure, some things seem to get easier, but they are quickly replaced by other, more difficult things. Kids aren't a continuum that starts at suck and ends at better. What is awesome about newborns will be replaced with something that is awesome about toddlers - same for the suck.

My suspicion is that there will always be awesome and there will always be suck, and waiting on “easier” is a fool’s errand. Easier is never going to come.  I’m not waiting for easier. I’ll take the good with the bad, not out of some hope that eventually one will outweigh the other, but with the understanding that parenting, like everything else in life, is lived in the aggregate of all of our good and bad experiences. Toddler fits in the supermarket will eventually become slammed doors and early curfews. It is never going to get easier, it is just going to get… different. 


So there you go. I know. I know. Making a list of the advice that annoys me isn't going to make that advice go away. And really, it isn't all bad advice. Who knows, maybe someday it will get through to me, and I will look back at myself and think I was silly for writing this list. Until then, I’m just going to keep doing my best to find love in the chaos – even if that chaos is full of pink fairies, Happy Meals, endless road trips with Frozen on repeat, and the occasional public fit.

What advice are you sick of? Let me know in the comments. Or, come find me on Facebook. I'll keep some mini-corns dogs warm for you! 


  1. Yes! I love that Tinerbell is an engineer! I love it! We have talked about that too. Disney movies these days have tons of great values embedded in them. My girl is nuts about princesses, which was not my plan. But Tiana, her favorite, is pretty bad-ass so I don't feel guilty at all.

  2. I have 2 daughters. 21 & 9 yrs old. The older one has always been all pink and princesses. (oh and things never got easier... just a different things to deal with) My youngest daughter has never wanted anything to do with "girl" toys. She has always preferred Action Figures, Legos, Super heros (but not the girls), NEVER Disney movies but yes to Spiderman, Hulk or anything of that sort. Parenting advise is sometimes funny but many times unwanted. I never understood especially why strangers found it okay to give advise. The advise I got a lot when my girls were infants was, "Don't cuddle them or hold them too much" HA!

  3. Thank you for posting this! I'm a new Dad. My daughter is only 7 months old and I am already getting tired of people pushing advice on us!

  4. Its important for people to realize that no two children are alike (most parents with more than one kid should definitely know this). What may be fine for some, may not be for others. My kids for example are not restricted on the amount of time they can spend watching TV, playing video games or surfing the internet - they self regulate that and do a pretty good job at it.

    Given the choice of Playing Mario Kart or heading outside to transform our sidewalk into their own personal canvas and cover it with chalk, they'll choose the latter any day of the week.

    Sure they love when the chip bag is ripped open, but equally, if not more so, they'll come flying around the corner when they smell the strawberries or hear the watermelon being sliced with their eyes popped out of their head and drool running down their chins.

    I hate when people chime in with their advice, especially those who aren't parents. We used to have a friend who criticized us for allowing our daughter to eat chocolate cake. "When I have kids, they'll never get chocolate" she proclaimed - guess what was happening about a18 months later? her kid was chowing down chocolate cake on her first birthday.

    The only advice that I ever give is that it's not important what other people think. What's important is that you do whats best for your family.

  5. Haha brilliant. I'm getting "we can't be too gender specific" from my girlfriend all the time. Guaranteed when he arrives he will want blue and footballs etc!! If not, fair enough but we can't do magnolia and duck egg forever!!!

    Check out my blog:

    1. No he won't. He'll only want those things if you expect him to want them, that's how culture passes from generation to generation.

    2. Check the salt content in marmite before slamming fast foods. Denying kids anything will lead to other problems. Moderation is key. Not everyone has your lifestyle. Changing genderstereotypes is a fruitless effort as this is engrained into society and culture, no matter what you tell your kids, they will still be influenced by their peers. I could go on but I think you missed the point on the article, so will undoubtedly ignore any comment with the same veign.

    3. Change in general isn't fruitless otherwise we'd still lock up gay people and women wouldn;t have the vote. Things change and they often change faster than generations. case in point - Gay marriage legal in the UK now, 20 years ago Legislation was passed to prevent "promotion of homosexual agendas" in schools. It changes and you can change what is passed to your children.

  6. You really should filter the gender specific crap. The entirety of western culture will drill into your daughter that she should be a pink princess, it's your job to try to equal that out by buying her an engineering set, jeans, tshirts and electronics kits.

    BTW - Tinkerbell? Worst roll model ever, look at her in the original peter pan movie? Jealous of every other woman near Peter and upset when it's implied her bum is big.

    Same goes for boys - there's nothing genetic to say they like damn blue and football, that's our culture forcing them in a specific direction and limiting their choices, it's your job to give them choices, not let society take them away.

    As for feeding kids Mcdonalds before they know what's in it, and worse, how it's made? Yeah we're all in a rush sometimes but the idea that healthy food is somehow harder to prep or get into your kids? That's rubbish. A cheese and marmite sandwich always gets eaten by my kids and it's sure as anything better than deep fried death from macdonalds!

    1. read this blog post, about advice this guy doesn't want, and then proceed to give him exactly that advice.

      Good job missing the point.

      And regarding the gender argument: so you're saying that if a boy WANTS to wear blue and throw a football, he should be denied that option because it's "gender-specific"? Let kids like what they want to like.

    2. Well-said, Mike!

    3. I was going to write a longer reply, but Mike seems to have summed up my thoughts pretty well. Thanks Mike!

    4. Miles, there's only so long that you can regulate the gender-neutrality before the child begins to choose for him/herself. My son likes Legos and Mario and Skylanders, and also likes My Little Pony and Littlest Pet Shop. He wears rainbow-colored clothes and is rough-and-tumble, plays-in-the-mud. My daughter loves princesses and fairies and make-believe, and also loves Legos and Ninja Turtles. She loves pink flouncy things (as long as they're practical) and is also rough-and-tumble, plays-in-the-mud. Kids are people, and they will like the things they like. It's good to never force them to like or dislike something of a particular gender, but that goes both ways.

    5. I can;t regulate anything that happens outside of the house, I can;t hide them from culture, from gender wars, from misogynists and people who would belittle them based on their sex but I certainly can educate them about what that culture is, what those stereotypes are. Every time I see a toy specifically aimed at a gender I talk to them about it and ask them why they think a toy should only be for one Gender. That's the sort of stuff that sinks in and makes them open empathic adults, not parroting the last generations stereotypical garbage.

      ATTMike - and John Kinnear - if the author didn;pt want comments, they would;t be allowed would they! Then man is demonstrably wrong although obviously has the best of intentions he's just doing it wrong.

  7. Great article, I wholeheartedly agree!

  8. I try to live by one piece of advice that someone gave me when we first got into the parenting game. It is now the only piece of parenting advice I share with others. "Go with the flow." Every kid and every situation and every parent is different. A well-established tantrum solution that works on one kid will have no effect on another. A sleep strategy for one will not work for another - as I am currently being reminded. Take it as it comes and adapt to circumstances. We each need to discover the styles that work for us and our kids and spend less time judging how others are doing it.

  9. Love the article. I have 2 girls 6 and 4 they both are very girly however they love the teenage mutant ninja turtles. They picked out lots of very pink , girly clothes for school but they also got tmnt book bags. I think its great

    1. I think it's cultural gender stereotyping that you'll allowed into your life because you can't think outside of the cultural box society put you in.

  10. I always love the line from older folks, "Cherish every moment". Yeah, that's NOT gonna happen because there are some moments I REALLY want to forget and SO NOT cherish. ;)

    Great post! I especially agree with the DVD/car thing since I travel with my kids by myself A LOT!

  11. Awesome post! I agree with every word!! I tried SO HARD to keep princesses out of the picture when my first girl was born. As luck would have it, I'm not the only person/entity in her world and she found them anyway (thanks for the dress-ups, Grandparents). Then, I spent years holding my finger in the proverbial dam hoping my house wouldn't get flooded with glitter. Finally I realized that princesses make my girl happy, so I decided to become hyper aware of each character so as to highlight their strengths. I also realized that the messages my girls recieve about what's cool and fun and girly might come from outside, but the messages they receive about self worth and body image come directly from ME. I'm on a quest to love the princesses while modeling the values I want to pass on to my girls (and now our newborn son, who already loves tea parties).

    Love your blog and I look forward to following you from now on!

  12. I loved reading this and my only child is 28 already. :) She loves fairies AND zombies! :)

  13. Fab post. I hate people telling me I should make my kids wear a sweater/dry their hair, etc or they will catch a cold. Uhm, no they won't. Because bacteria and viruses make people sick, not wet hair. sheesh.


  15. This is perfect! I feel like you've been living inside my head for the past 5 years! The other advice I've hated has revolved around bedtime. None of it worked - I ended up staying in her room every night for 4 years until she finally was ready to fall asleep like a "big girl." Why is this sleep-training thing such a big deal to other people? It really made me feel like an unworthy parent just because I didn't mind hanging out with my kid at night to help her get to sleep.

  16. It irritates me when I hear people say "Control your kid."
    My job as a parent is not to control my children's behavior, it's to teach them to control their own behavior. I don't want to control my children, I want them to learn self-control.

  17. Things like buying gender specific toys and junk food for kids should be avoided. And tell me what junk food is?

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