sifting through contradictory parenting advice

There's certainly no shortage of both solicited and unsolicited parenting advice these days, much of it contradictory:

Spare the rod and spoil the child.
Never hit a child.
Set more limits and boundaries.
Let go of more control.
Loosen the reins.
Tighten the reins.


How is a well-intentioned parent supposed to sort through all of this discrepancy?

This question feels especially important to me given the recent deaths of several people during a sweat lodge ceremony. We will never know the whole story, but emerging details seem to suggest that the leader of the ceremony positioned himself as an authority, and some folks may have willingly handed their personal responsibility over to him, at least temporarily.

I wasn't there, so I have no idea what actually happened. Heck, I wouldn't know what was going on inside anyone but myself even if I had been there. But it makes me think about how eager, maybe even desperate, for help we humans can become when we are faced with a problem that deeply rankles us. Sometimes it seems like a huge relief to just hand our problem over to someone else to solve.

For many of us, parenting qualifies as deeply rankling. So we seek help. We read books, we talk to friends, we attend therapy, and we google. Which might even be how you made your way to this very article!

I've said it before, but it bears repeating: You are the expert on your child. The most any professional, friend, or family member can give you is additional ideas for your consideration. It is your job to run those ideas through your own filter and clean out what does not resonate with you before you act.

So I hope no one ever blindly implements my advice. In fact, if I thought any of you were going to do that, I'd stop writing and speaking immediately! It is never my intention to tell you what to do. (Granted, I do get very passionate about this stuff sometimes, and I often neglect to mention that whole 'I am trusting you to run this through your own filter' thing. That's why I posted that permanent disclaimer over there on the sidebar ...)

What I love most is when someone writes to me and says something like, "In my heart of hearts, I have known what my child really and truly needed for years. Many people told me I was wrong. After reading your article, I finally found the courage to try it. And it works!"

It is my intention to share strategies and concepts with you that have worked for me or others. I trust that you will not swallow them whole, but will chew them, savor them, roll them around in your mouth a while to see how they taste, and spit out whatever you find indigestible.

When I am doing this advice-sorting process for myself, there are a few things I tune into. For one, I'll run the idea through my common sense filter. Does it make sense to me? Do I have any past experiences that suggest this might or might not be a viable option in my current situation?

Then, I'll run it through my heart to see if I feel expansion or contraction when I think about implementing the advice. I check for feelings of warmth or coolness, connection or disconnection.

Then it gets the gut check. For me, it's sort of a basic uh-huh or nuh-uh feeling. Yes feels like outward motion, no feels like bumping up against a wall. No feels sort of stubborn and stuck, while Yes feels like a flowing stream.

It's challenging to put these feelings into words, and the feelings will be different for each person, but my hope is that when you read about my signals, it will help you become more aware of your own.

If the suggestion or advice passes all these tests, I start to experiment with it. I remind myself of my goal, and take stock of whether I seem to be getting closer to it or farther from it when I implement the advice.

If the advice doesn't work where the rubber hits the road, I don't care how good it sounded in theory. And conversely, if the advice takes me where I want to go, I don't really care about the age, credentials, personal habits, or hypocrisy of the person who gave it to me. I just take the info and go my own way with it.

So if you decide to give anything I suggest a try, please also pay attention to how you feel while doing it, and whether it is taking your relationship with your child where you want it to go.

There's a tremendous variety of parenting options out there. I hope you'll keep sampling until you find a model that works for both you and your child.

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