We have access to more advice, opinions and information than any other parenting cohort in history. But the world is also more fast-paced than at any time in history, which leaves busy parents very little time to sift through all of the resources available to us. So, when should we take parenting advice from friends, family and specialists? And when should we stop consuming and listen to our inner wisdom?
As a trained psychotherapist, professional coach and teacher, I’ve spent the last 20 years supporting the mental and emotional well-being of working parents. The skills one needs to navigate the modern parenting experience has changed over the years. As we move further into the post-information age, it’s become crucial for parents to build a personal filter through which they can assess the advice they get, expert or otherwise. While every parent will naturally develop their own filter over time, exploring these specific areas for yourself can help speed up the process.
1. Know Your Values
There’s a lot of unreliable advice out there. Now that everyone has a platform they can use to share their experience and their interpretation of facts, it can be hard to determine what’s reliable. But even when you’ve done your due diligence and are weighing verified advice, it can still be confusing to know what will apply best in your particular situation.
That’s where values come in. Mine are my deepest, most personal beliefs about what constitutes a well-lived life. My values reflect my understanding of what creates meaning and fulfillment.
I’ve also learned that feelings of happiness are directly related to how well my actions align with my values. Without a clear idea of what’s most important to my family and me, it’s easy to fall into the trap of following whatever advice I come across. On the other hand, when I’m clear about what I hold most dear, that helps me disregard a lot of advice that might be useful for others but doesn’t align with my core values.
2. Know Your Child
When I was pregnant with my oldest son, I was convinced I would have a calm little Buddha baby. I saw other peaceful infants sleeping in their car seats while their parents enjoyed a night out, and I was sure that would be my child. I had visions of quiet mornings filled with coffee and sweet cuddles with my offspring.
Needless to say, my oldest child is rambunctious, fun-loving and endlessly curious. He does have quiet moments, of course, but his general demeanor is one of someone who is eager to take on the world. He lives out loud, and I absolutely love it.
I’ve consumed thousands of parenting books, articles and podcasts over the years. A lot of it has inspired me. All of that “research-based” advice gave me a sense of comfort, especially in my early parenting years, when I had no idea what I was doing. It provided the type of instruction manual I longed for as I wrestled with my status as a parenting rookie. I was determined to reach those promised outcomes by applying the advice I liked to whatever situation I faced with my child. But over the years, I’ve come to accept that a lot of expert advice just doesn’t apply to my child. I’ve learned to adjust my expectations and parenting style to support my child. I no longer try to change my child to fit the latest advice.
The reality we all know deep down, but that can be hard to accept, is that every child is unique and will require a different parenting approach at different times. Understanding the person you’re actually raising will provide a lot of guidance when evaluating generic expert advice. Once you become attuned to your child, you can pierce through the irrelevant information to find those nuggets that actually suit you and your child.
Here are a few questions that may help you identify what each of your children needs:
What qualities or traits was my child born with? What has been the most consistent thing about their personality, struggles, or natural tendencies?
What do I admire most about my child today? What do they do uniquely well or with ease?
- What challenges have I faced over and over again as I’ve tried to parent this child? What’s the hardest thing about parenting this particular person?
- If I weren’t trying to change anything about my child, what would I need to accept?
3. Know Yourself
While knowing your child can provide a lot of guidance as a parent, at some point, you’ll reach a limit as to how much you can prepare for parenting challenges. Sometimes parenting comes down to being present in the moment and responding to what’s right in front of you. You won’t always have time to reach out for advice or information from the experts, or anyone else. You’ll be alone with your instincts. In those moments, having a deep sense of who you are at your core can help guide you through the unexpected. The more you know about your internal motivations, strengths and goals, the more prepared you’ll be to rely on yourself as the ultimate parenting expert.
The human race has never encountered the volume of input we do today. This level of discernment isn’t something we’ve ever needed, which leaves us with two options:
- Find an effective way to filter out the noise, so we can focus on what matters in our daily lives; or
- Numb ourselves to everything coming at us just to survive.
The latter is what most people rely on today, and it’s taking a toll. Working parents report higher levels of anxiety, depression and suicide than ever before. We must find a new way to navigate working parenthood today.
There’s no indication that we’ll ever return to a simpler time. This reality is both a blessing and a curse. It can be overwhelming to find an effective way to filter out the noise, but it’s worth it. Developing a deeper understanding of your values, your kids and yourself will help you leverage the abundance of information at your fingertips.
Sarah Argenal, M.A., CPC, is on a mission to eradicate the burnout epidemic so working parents can finally enjoy these precious years of their lives. She is the founder of the Argenal Institute based in Austin, TX, host of the Working Parent Resource Podcast, and creator of the Whole SELF Lifestyle, which offers a sustainable and long-term approach to personal fulfillment for working parents. Visit her website at www.argenalinstitute.com to learn more or browse the library of training materials.