The Best Parenting Advice Isn't Even Parenting Advice

I grew up in a pretty small, conservative Southern town where right was right and wrong was wrong. And you weren't supposed to much question that. So when I encountered the concept of dialectics in graduate school, I was skeptical.

For those of you wondering what the heck I'm talking about, I'll skip the esoterics and just say it's the idea that your right is not always the right and your wrong is not always the wrong. There's no absolute truth and opposing viewpoints can coexist. At. The. Same. Time. And even in your own head.

I know, right?!? It took me a minute, too.

But now that I have warmed up to the idea, the merits of its application are endless, especially since becoming a parent.

Because what I've noticed, in my very limited and brief time as a mom, is that everyone has an idea about how you should be raising your child. And they all think their way is the "right" way (myself included). And when you do or say something contrary to their way, they get all defensive and yelly because they think what you really mean is, "Your way is wrong."

And if their way is wrong, then they must be awful people and terrible parents.

For instance, I recently had a conversation about how to handle a crying baby. Now my husband and I loosely subscribe to the RIE parenting philosophy, which means we don't always swoop in to "fix" our crying child. We respect that babies cry sometimes and that's ok, especially since it's one of the only ways he has of communicating with us. When he cries we give him a few minutes (seconds even) during which we try to decipher what he's telling us, ask him some questions, and then proceed with whatever we think he needs (which, yes, means leaving him alone at times).

Now I know some of you are rolling your eyes, because my god you have a parenting philosophy?!? Others of you just want to read about the birth story and could care less about how I tend to the kid now that he's here (it's coming I promise). The rest of you have gone to call Child Protective Services because how could we be so neglectful?!? The baby is crying! You have to do something when a baby cries! You have to pick him up, or change his diaper, or rock him, or swaddle him, or something! You can't just let him cry! You are going to scar him for life! You are horrible parents!

Now, I could recite facts, and reasons, and philosophies about why we disagree. I could point out how immediately intervening seems to be more about your own discomfort than the baby's. I could do all this in order to get you to see the errors of your way, so that you change your mind. So that you ultimately agree our way is the "right" way and your way is the "wrong" way.

But chances are that's not going to happen. You won't change your mind, and in the meantime we'll do nothing but frustrate and upset each other.

So I could just save us all a lot of time and trouble, by applying the dialectical "Yes, and..." rule.

Yes, you do/did that with your babies, AND we are choosing something different.

See how wonderful that is? Your experience and choices are just as valid as mine. And me doing it one way, in no way discredits the way in which you do it. We're both "right". 

Yes, I believe having a working mom is important, AND staying at home is just as valid. Yes, we want to breastfeed for as long as possible, AND formula feeding is good, too. Yes, you rock your babies to sleep, AND we put our kid down before he nods off so he can figure out how to self soothe. Yes, I think letting kids regularly watch TV before aged two rots their brains, AND Sesame Street is cool.

And it doesn't just work when people are giving you parenting advice you disagree with, but in all areas of conflict. 

Yes, I want you to do this dishes, AND you would rather watch TV and drink beer. Yes, you want cookies for dinner, AND we are having broccoli. Yes, your crying is annoying at times, AND you're an awesome baby. Yes, the the fact that I have to point stuff like this out to you drives me crazy, AND I love you.

This method works because it doesn't shut people down. It continues the conversation and allows space for everyone's thoughts, feelings, and experiences to be heard.

Is it harder than arguing, judging, or rolling your eyes? Yes, AND it's worth it. Because it means that respect, compassion, and empathy are being practiced. Even during tough moments. Even when we disagree. Even when I know I'm right.

And the practice of those things is what will allow my kid to be able to say, "Yes, my mom was passionate, and opinionated, and headstrong, and vocal, and did things wrong, and totally screwed me up, AND she was wonderful, and considerate, and kind, and loved me very much.

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