Non Parent Perspective

All it took was a little parenting advice by Frank Bruni in the Op-Ed section of the New York Times to light up the paper’s comment section and twitter trail last week. Readers responded with bristling backs to his opinion piece, “A Childless Bystander’s Baffled Hymn.” The ensuing commentary ranged from “Bravo” to “You know nothing.” Readers with negative reactions stated Mr. Bruni’s parenting observations were invalid because he has not raised children.

However, I found his perspective delightful and not at all judgmental. He openly conceded that his experience with kids was limited to being an uncle and that he lacked direct parenting practice. His article concluded:

“So parents: cut yourselves some slack. Take a deep breath. No one false step or one missed call is going to consign your children to an entirely different future. Make sure that they know they’re loved. Make sure that they know their place. And make peace with the fact that you don’t hold all or even most of the cards. There may be a frustrating sense of helplessness in that realization. But there’s a mercy, too.”

What’s not to like about that perspective?

Having raised four kids, I took no offense. Yes, there seems to be an endless stream of books, seminars and on-line forums that proffer parental instruction. There are pediatricians, school counselors and parenting peer groups. There are relatives, neighbors and religious organizations to chime in. However, most of us are eager for advice at all the life-stages of child-rearing. Often this is a rear-view mirror exercise as we seek validation for decisions we have already made. parent definition

Parenting is difficult and humbling. We chase after an ever-moving target. It feels at times that our parenting is “just in time.”  We encounter surprising circumstances that we did not foresee regardless of our preparation.

Delgirl from Lexington, Kentucky, summed up reader feelings most succinctly when she wrote, “We as parents, do the best we can. Please don’t judge us.” Responses such as Delgirl’s may say more about the over-tired stressed state of parents then the article itself.

After all, everyone’s home circumstances are only known to the participants. Mr. Bruni’s article leaned more toward cultural commentary than criticism.

As parents we spend lots of time worrying about “getting it wrong” but there are equally as many chances to “get it right.” Sheer odds are in our favor. Even a coin flip is correct 50% of the time.

My take away from the baffled non-dad was the “mercy rule.” We need not “cling to the possibility of perfection,” we just need to do our best.

Carol Lewis Gullstad

April 8, 2013

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