Lots of things have expiration dates. Milk, eggs, ibuprofen. What about stale ideas?
For parents, there is no shortage of advice and opinions. You live this. The mom down the street shares what worked for her at bedtime, your cousin’s best friend talks about sneaking vegetables into meals, your neighborhood mail carrier tells you how to cure pink eye.
People who aren’t parents also love to offer how to modify undesirable behaviors (really?). Sometimes the input is solicited, sometimes it’s not. And most times the advice-givers mean well, but well…we know that doesn’t always equate with sound or welcome information. There are definitely boundaries that can be set as far as taking in such information, but this piece isn’t about that. It’s about one of the pieces of “evidence” used to support a parenting decision or piece of advice.
There really isn’t a place where this “evidence” doesn’t grace us with its presence. It shows up in a thread in a parenting group or on your own social media feed. In a group text message. In the hallway while waiting for preschool pick-up. In the line at the grocery store. At the dentist’s office while you’ve got your mouth wide open and are in no position to offer a response. Wherever you are, there is someone who wants to share —at least one person who supports their point of view with some version of the following:
“That’s what my parents did with me, and I turned out okay, so clearly that’s the best way to handle this.”
Let’s pause. There are so many things to say about this, but let’s start with one. Before you get defensive, just consider.
It’s a self-centered and short-sighted assessment (and let’s be honest, we all make those sometimes).
In research, we talk about sample size. You, all by yourself, are a tiny sample size. So, you can see why I put evidence in quotations earlier. It’s not really evidence. It’s an idea framed as evidence.
Here’s a metaphor (who doesn’t love a good metaphor?) for the logic behind “I turned out okay.” It is the equivalent of the automotive industry never having advanced because Henry Ford turned out the Model T and that was fine, so why the need for growth and advancement? It was good enough, so why change? Never mind fuel efficiency, range of travel, speed.
Just as automotive technology has advanced in its own way (and thank goodness — can you imagine cranking up your engine every morning?), we are learning to parent in more efficient, effective, compassionate ways. We have more information and research every day. This isn’t to say that every single parenting decision needs to be research-based. Trusting your gut and choosing what works for your family is important, no matter what.
With that said, consider letting the parenting choice stand alone as what you chose, rather than falling back on “I turned out okay”.
Why it’s time to let go of “I turned out okay”:
1. We owe it to our kids. Why not choose to explore what else is out there? What if it might serve them and our future generations better?
2. Our parents weren’t right about everything. They did their best with what they had available to them and now we can do the same. Think about how much information has changed!
3. It limits our world view. After all, your experience is only your experience.
4. Your gut, if you tune in, might tell you something different is better for your current situation.
5. “I turned out okay” is coated in fear of branching out. It says, “What happens if I mess with what worked or worked well enough? Yikes!” When we don’t try new things, innovation stagnates.
Will there be things our parents did which we choose to replicate? I hope so! This is the breath of our family life. The traditions and practices which run through our homes, generation after generation, are so very important. There are behaviors based in structure, love, and togetherness that we will choose to celebrate and pass along.
This, though, is a nudge toward more self-awareness, bravery in trying new things, and openness. I know, so well, how fear can hop in the parenting driver’s seat. It makes it so tempting to stick to the familiarity of what we grew up with.
But, could it also be possible that there is a whole new world waiting on the other side of that fear?