Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Parenting advice and why you should take it all with a grain of salt

I've read my fair share of parenting books since acquiring our little tribe.  One of the things that has sunk in ever-so-slowly over the years is that they can give you contradictory advice.  This was a shock to someone who maintains the legitimate belief that there is only one right way to stack a dishwasher.  I think this might have something to do with the Platonic forms but I digress.

The thing about contradictory advice in parenting is that while you might think one view will be backed up with wise and well-researched reasoning while the other will obviously have been penned by some crazed lunatic whose children eat crack for breakfast, this is not the case at all.  The really confusing thing about contradictory advice is that, not only can two books tell you should do the complete opposite, they can both give you excellent reasons for it.  Sometimes, just to mess with your sleep-deprived brain, they will even give you the same reason for doing the complete opposite.  You must imagine I'm telling you this in an awed and shocked tone of voice, while leaning towards you with my eyes very wide open.  It is simply mind-boggling!

So over the years, I've finally concluded that parenting advice - be it in books, blogs or over the back fence from your 80-year old neighbour - needs to be evaluated carefully because even the dumbest of ideas can be delivered with such home-spun wisdom that you find yourself milking a goat every day at 5 am in the hope that your children won't go off the rails at 16.

And all of this was illustrated afresh to me on Monday as I was cleaning my son's room.  A while back, I'd read a couple of books that suggested that mothers who always clean their children's rooms will end up with children who can never take responsibility for anything...ever.  A life of irresponsibility, failure and misery would be their lot.  Much encouragement was given to make their rooms their own responsibility.  Yes, yes!  It sounds so true.  And who wants a child whose life is ruined because I cleaned their room for them?  So for a while now, our kids have had to clean and vacuum their rooms on Saturday mornings (when their inconsistent parents don't completely forget).  At first, I was pretty hyper-vigilant about this but I've been getting slack lately.  I sort of poke my head and in and see if the carpet is visible before handing over the vacuum cleaner.  In the back of my head, I did say to myself a few times in the last month or so that I'd better give the rooms an extra going-over at some point, but I hadn't got around to it yet.

On Monday night, we had guests staying in my son's room.  Vaguely remembering beforehand that one of the guests has a dust-allergy, I thought I'd better give it an extra clean.  I knew it would be a bit dusty.  After all, he's six.  You can't expect too much.

I had a growing sense of unease as I began to tackle his room.  Drawers full of interesting junk.  Lolly wrappers under the bed.  Bizarre neo-impressionist paintings sent home from art lessons covering up piles of dismembered robot parts.  And dust.  A lot of dust.  And little piles of sand from where he'd taken off his sneakers.  But then - oh hold me! - then I found a bone.

I think it was animal.  I hope so, because I threw it out and I would hate to think I'd disposed of important DNA evidence from a crime scene.  It was an odd shape - perhaps part of a spine or a joint of some kind.  Given the fact that it was fairly white, I figured whatever it had been part of had died a long time ago.  I'm guessing he dug it up and thought it was prehistoric.  Or just cool.  And I have no idea how long it had been on his bedroom floor.

So to sum up, from now on, when I read parenting advice, no matter how wise and well thought-out its methodology might sound, I will remember that each family is different and each circumstance unique.  And I will weigh the merits of their advice against my own beliefs and values and take into account the unique character of my own children including their propensity to store dead animal parts in their bedroom.  And I will clean their rooms.  Sometimes.

Please tell me I'm not the only one finding odd things in my kids' rooms.  What's the strangest thing you've found?  Or the strangest thing you kept as a kid?


Fiona said...

I'm not sure I understand. Why is it wrong to have a (clean) bone in your bedroom?

Sarah Cooper said...

I found a rotten banana in my 7 year old's draw a few months ago (Yuck!).

Deb said...

It's starts as a clean bone. Then he asks if he can bring in the dead bird. And last week I had to forbid them to take a box full of slaters into their room to "train" them for a performing slater circus.

Now that I think about it, maybe I'm looking at this wrong way around. I'm worrying about stuff coming in. Perhaps I should buy him a tent for Christmas and move him out. Problem solved. Cold in winter though.

Deb said...

I bet you were pleased to split with that. Ha ha ha! Oh, such a bad joke.

Adrian Cameron said...

I do remember having 16 towels in my room at one stage (my Mum counted them!). And I did keep maggots in the family fridge for my finches to feed their fledling families with (they go into a torpor so don't fret, none escape), but the best was that for about a year and a half I kept a sick long-tailed finch in my bedroom - loose. He'd fly about the room, sit on the curtain rails. Poo occassionally and I couldn't turn the light on after he'd gone to sleep. One day he died. And I turned out all right!!

PS - without doubt even wierder were the family we met while camping a few years ago who happily let their child bring home a dead fairy penguin found on the beach and let it spend the night in their tent. I kid you not!!

Deb said...

That's hilarious! 16 towels!!! I can imagine my son being the kind of kid who would talk me into maggots in the fridge. But, yes, I too would draw the line at dead penguins. Dead walruses too. In fact, let's just say now, while we are at it, that I will have a blanket rule about dead sea creatures in bedrooms.