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In Defense of Ad-Lib Parenting

Cousins

I’m just going to put it out there — I have no parenting strategy.

I did not study a script before the curtain rose on my life as a parent. I didn’t map out the life of my sons.

I am not a Tiger Mom (more accurately, not a Tiger Dad). I didn’t study attachment parenting, nurturant parenting, or slow parenting.

Babble Voices writer John Cave Osborne suggested last week that new parents come up with a mission statement they will apply to their parenting practices to keep them on track.

Nope, didn’t do that.

In this era of alpha-parenting, I have only one rule: don’t break the kid. It’s like I’m in one of those egg and spoon races, and I just want to get to the end without dropping it. I don’t know how I’m going to get around all the obstacles in the way, I will just solve each problem as it arises with the end goal in mind.

Does this make me a terrible parent?

There are only two “playbooks” my wife and I have read while raising our children. I read Be Prepared (the absolute best pregnancy planning book for first time fathers). She read the What to Expect.. series. We used them as encyclopedias to help us understand what was going to happen over the course of those early days.

That’s it.  That’s the only research we did.  But we’re not disengaged parents.  I started blogging about my kids when the first was 2. I actively read parenting stories in the news, and every now and again a technique will come by to help my kids eat more vegetables, to help get them to sleep, to help me teach them discipline and I’ll try it, but not without the devotion of this generation of Type A parents.

My wife and I are not following parenting trends; trying to be a tiger parent one month, a french parent the next. I’m not treating my family like a business, looking for the ROI. I didn’t contribute to the wiki on parenting styles.

“Love your kids. Do what’s best. Don’t break them.”

I didn’t practice The Ferber Method with my kids nor did we consciously want to co-sleep with them — it just ended up that way. When our boys were infants, we put them in their own bed, and then when they screamed we brought them to bed with us; it worked, so we did it. That’s how we’ve attacked all our parenting challenges: do what works for us.

I love my kids, I’m engaged in their lives, I’m planning for their future, but I’m not going to treat them as dogs that need to be trained. I am not going to rigidly plan the way I parent, assuming they will react according to a psychologist’s study.

I roll with the punches, plan a little bit at a time, and take the cues from my kids. I do what comes naturally, what feels right, and what I hope is good.

After all that bluster about not having a strategy, it would appear my ad-lib parenting is, in fact, a strategy.

I’m a big fan of Lenore Skenazy‘s Free Range Kids blog. She’s the NY mom who dropped her 9-year-old in Manhattan with some bus fare and a map and said “see you at home.” She was the bird-mom throwing her little chick out the nest and forcing it to fly (as opposed to bird mom Alicia Silverstone pre-chewing her son’s food).

Lenore’s blog is a daily tale of how ridiculous helicopter parenting has become and how tight society is when it comes to parenting and over-protecting our kids. Her stories help me understand that my kids are fully capable of doing things on their own. I can loosen the leash and they’ll be okay.

Those who plan their parenting get so focused on the strategy of controlling their kids, that I think they miss the boat on living life and letting those little people be little people. They’re kids, not pets.

Parents who over-think raising their kids, are like those constantly chasing diets and looking for a way to lose weight. Someone is always going to tell you a better way, a new way. Consume less fat, eat more fiber, cut out sugar, trim your carbs. Fad diets seem cyclical, when all you really need to do is eat less and exercise.

Michael Pollan was on Oprah a few years back and responded to the legion of diet books, with his book In Defense of Food.

His advice was 7 simple words: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” It makes sense, doesn’t it?

So in this roundabout discussion of rebelling against John Cave Osborne‘s idea of having a parenting mission statement, I’ve discovered I have one too:  “Love your kids. Do what’s best. Don’t break them.” And in thinking about my ad-lib parenting style, I’ve discovered it’s rooted in something else: common sense.

Do you have a parenting strategy or mentor? Are you a rabid reader of parenting books? Have you studied a parenting method and become a disciple?

Photo Credit: Steve Leroux

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