I have the same response any time my parenting is either praised or questioned: “Well,” I say while gazing across the rim of my imaginary cognac glass, “I did study newborn parenting at Yale.”
I let this sit for a while, basking in the glow of newfound respect emanating from my audience, despite knowing full well that my wife is about to clarify that my studies consisted of a single (free) Newborn Parenting Care Class at Yale-New Haven Hospital, where we had our daughter.
Still, it feels good being considered a parenting expert in those in-between moments, even though I’m setting myself up to be the butt of a joke.
So it came as quite a shock when nine months into my time as a stay-at-home dad other people started genuinely asking for my parenting advice – as if I knew what I was doing.
Just by surviving, my complete ignorance became wisdom — this must be how it feels to grow up in the Bush family.
When it comes to matters like walking or talking, I’m still a total moron. But in the eyes of a newborn’s parents, I’m amazing.
The extent of my advice is to say, “Oh yeah, that happened to us too. It sucked. You’ve just got to hang in there and eventually it changes,” which is exactly what parents of newborns need to hear.
I’ve always been good at commiserating.
People don’t really want to hear from me; they just want me to hear them, which I’m happy to do because my only other company from nine to five is a baby and a stuffed animal we’ve named Owlivia.
Still, I throw in a few helpful tidbits from time to time.
I know all of the baby-friendly library classes in a five-town radius, including their stroller accessibility policies.
If you’re re-reading the library’s description of Sensory Story Time trying to figure out if it’s for babies or autistic kids, I’m the one who actually approached the children’s librarian and asked.
It’s for all babies; it’s just an inaccurately named class. Doctors can’t even diagnose babies with autism until at least 18 months.
I’m in that sweet spot for parents of newborns because I can still recommend products that haven’t yet been recalled and I’m not yet cynically chortling to “just put some whiskey on her gums.”
New parents love hearing experiences of people who’ve been down this path, but the older memories don’t age well. We’ll listen, sure, but the advice is taken as seriously as a resume sent in from an AOL email address. You’ve figured out the medium but you also demonstrate a total lack of adaptability.
There are universal truths that any person who’s had a child can pass along to another, but the most helpful advice comes from someone just a little further down the same path you’re on.
Incoming high school freshmen don’t want to hear about their parents’ experience hanging out at the arcade after school; they want to hear from a sophomore, hopefully, a cute one of the opposite sex.
It’s the same for new parents. We need to think we’re experiencing something totally new to prop up our impressions that our kids are growing up in a special time. If older advice still applies it makes our experience more universal and less special, which is terrifying to consider.
We’ll get there eventually but for now, we still need to dream big. Our child is tracking a ball’s movement with her eyes; she’s clearly a genius.
It’s pretty cool using my recent experiences to help others even though I know I’m just making it all up.
I’m thinking of getting new business cards made up saying: Chris Gaffney – Parenting Guru. Apparently, it’s a thing.
After all, I did study newborn parenting at Yale.
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