Wednesday, January 11, 2012

"I have a question for all you parents..."

"Other parents: how did you handle yada yada, if/when it occurred?"

If your friends are anything like my friends this is a question you've seen a gazillion times on Facebook.

And...I find it annoying.


Not because parents are asking for help. Goodness knows we can all use more help with nearly everything we do. And I have great admiration for the work parents do - work they do with inconsistent role models, no instruction manuals, no training. Nope, that's not it.

This is annoying because it presumes that those of us who haven't gone the parenting route don't have any experience that might inform their question.

Let me make myself clear.

  • I'm trained in social work and public health. I spent four years studying and doing work in the field of mental illness, infectious disease management, human behavior change, and human and organizational development.
  • I am a sexuality educator who has been trusted by complete strangers to help their pre-teens as they navigate the world of sexual and gender identity, sexual expression, and love of self and other.
  • I worked in public education for nearly six years. In my work I regularly talked with families about their hopes and dreams for their children's education and aspirations. I also talked with teens about their experience of school and their aspirations. I was a generalist and was required to know the current trends and literature about the PK-12 educational process, special education, school choice, art and music education, recess and school lunch politics, PTA/PTO organizing, the college prep process, etc.
  • Prior to this job I worked for nearly four years for a nonprofit that helped people of tremendous wealth come to terms with their financial circumstances. Many of these people were parents who sought to find ways to help their children have balanced and generous lives because of their circumstances. In my work I listened to them and directed them to resources to help them realize this dream.
  • And now? Now I work for a nonprofit that helps parents of young children develop, practice and maintain habits of reading together as part of healthy individual and family development.
  • I am an auntie to six little people on my side, and six on BMG's side - now ages two through 16. I've observed five siblings and their five partners parent twelve children. I've listened to each one work their way through the "disposable versus cloth" diaper debate, home school versus public versus independent debate, you name it, I've heard it. 
  • I also offer my own unique and supportive relationship to each of my nieces and nephews, as well as (although to a lesser extent) the children of my friends.
My point? I know a shit ton about kids, families and parenting. I don't know any of this from the experience of being a parent, but it doesn't make my knowledge and opinions any less valid.

And, because I don't have kids, it is highly likely I have more time. Time to read your questions and thoughtfully respond.

And, because you are my friend and you have kids, I understand that much of you life centers around your children and your ever evolving role as a parent. Being excluded when you pose your Facebook questions just to other parents doesn't inspire me to learn more about the person you are as a parent.

So, when people direct Facebook questions about their parenting journeys exclusively to parents they are discounting all the experience people like me - who aren't parents - can bring to question with which they are grappling.

Dear friends. Keep asking questions. And please don't exclude me. I want to be involved in your life and I just may have a perspective that helps.


Meg said...

Was a childcare worker in the oncology ward of a children's hospital for a year (which I will never forget), as a care aid for autistic kids for 3 years, as a nanny for 4 years, as a director of a camp that kept 350 kids safe on an island (and required training and managing a staff of 110) for 6 years.. and I've been Auntie Meg to countless mini-kids since I was 19. For about 20 years of my life, if it involved kids, I wanted to do it, because I figured it would give me the resources I needed to be a great mom. I didn't take the path I expected to that, but now I have a 13 and 16-year old in my care who think I'm okay.

As my friends have had babies and toddlers and school-age kids, I know they've dealt with an onslaught of information and new methods and the crazy WHOA of being parents. They want to talk to people who they see as "experts", either by training or experience.

And when my experience comes up, I hear, "well, other peoples' kids and your kids are different" -- to which I say, hmm, that would kind of put a dent in adoption and fostering and step-parenting, and I hope you're not that closed-minded.

But I'm willing to help everyone on their own terms, according to new methods, and new ways of doing things. I can respect how medicine evolves, and the time they've spent learning about what's best for their kids as individuals.

All I ask is that they respect the hours I've put in and the love I have and the skills I bring.

In other words (and with sincere admiration of everything you've done to serve kids and families and the community), AMEN.

btrandolph said...

mountains. molehills. parents preface questions about parenting with "other parents" not to exclude the kidless but bc other parents are statistically more likely to a) care; and b) want to discuss it ad nauseum.

before i was a parent, I really didn't give a damn about the travails of my encumbered cohort. because I am vain, I like to think I represented the majority of non-parents. these parents with problems you decry don't want to hear the taunts and catcalls of their carefree childless friends - they want input from someone who shares their brand of insanity. call it lazy targeting if you want, but please don't call it an insult. jump right in: "I'm not a parent, but I do have years of experience in the best practices of getting a kid (or a life partner, for that matter) to stop wetting the bed." or perhaps the less helpful but more therapeutic "screw you - I have a great answer to your question, but because you assumed only someone who's personally experienced the joy of childbirth could help you, I am keeping it bottled up inside with my sadness about getting picked last for kickball in second grade."