Home > musing > Unsolicited advice about having kids

Unsolicited advice about having kids

June 26, 2014

You know how it’s better to have a discussion with someone when you’re calm and they haven’t just done something that drives you absolutely nuts? Well I’m going to generalize to the parenting advice realm: best time to give parenting advice is not when you’ve just seen a kid get poorly parented or a parent stress out about stupid stuff. Best time is when you’re alone in your pajamas, nowhere near other people’s kids. That way those of you who have kids won’t feel defensive.

Also, here’s another rule about parenting advice: never take parenting advice from anyone, because the people who are actually eager to give it are usually super weird. Look at Tiger Mom as Exhibit A.

In spite of that very wise second rule, I’ma go ahead and give some advice that’s pretty good, if I do say so myself in my own weird way.

  1. Before having kids, think of all the reasons not to. They’re loud, expensive, and they weigh you down immensely. You will never be able to stay up with friends after 10pm again if you do it. So don’t do it.
  2. Unless… unless you just absolutely cannot help it because of all those freaking hormones and how cute they look in summer dresses (boys included, yes, they don’t care, they’re babies). Then do it, but think hard and plan well for the noise, the expense, and the inconvenience.
  3. In terms of how you parent a baby: think long-term about stuff. Are you gonna want to get up a million times every night for the rest of your life? No, you’re not. So figure out how to get the damn baby to sleep through the night. This cannot be forced until the kid is 6 months or so, and the moment you can manipulate their sleep is characterized by the moment they can try to manipulate their sleep and stay awake to hang out with you. That’s when you start the 6pm bedtime ritual, including songs and books and 6:30 lights out. They will cry for like 10 minutes three nights in a row and after that you will be golden. Long term thinking, remember. Even if they cry for an hour, it’s an investment for a lifetime, namely yours.
  4. In terms of how you parent a little kid: think super long-term about stuff. Don’t raise your voice unless they are doing something actually dangerous, like walking into traffic or sticking a fork into an outlet. Make sure you let them get really dirty and try to eat weird things, too – their tongues are like extra hands at this age, it helps them explore the world. The only thing a little kid really needs is regular meals and a 6 or maybe 7pm bedtime ritual. They can spend 2 hours ripping up a newspaper for entertainment. Once a week baths would be good.
  5. In terms of how you parent a school age kid: think super duper long-term about stuff. If you do their homework for them, they will never do it themselves. So let them figure that out, but do remind them to do it if they’re forgetful. If you structure all their time, they will never figure out what they love to do, so make sure they get bored sometimes. Keep lots of good books and nerdy puzzles and interesting people around the house but don’t make them “do math” with you unless they ask for it. Don’t make them take music lessons. Instead, wait for them to beg for music lessons, and then say no for a while until you’re really sure they want them. Don’t just tell them to be nice, exhibit nice behavior to them and to others in front of them. Reward them for pointing out your hypocrisies, and make them watch Star Trek: The Next Generation (or equivalent) with you for its moral education and for the popcorn, and have fun listening to them pointing out the bad physics. And the most important of all: enjoy them and have fun with them, because that’s the best kind of way to role model for your kids, plus it’s fun, and they’re people who will move away pretty soon and you’ll miss them.
  6. In terms of how you parent an older kid, I have no idea because my oldest kid is 14. But so far we’re having a blast. I’m pretty sure they’re already mostly raised in terms of my role anyway by the time they’re 12.

One last, general thing for today’s anxious parents: don’t feel guilty, you’re doing your best. Guilt is a waste of time and gets in the way of enjoying the popcorn.

Categories: musing
  1. June 26, 2014 at 7:44 am

    TNG. Yes.


  2. Leila
    June 26, 2014 at 7:55 am

    Cathy, that’s all great advice. But the funny thing is, all the opposite advice would be great, too. Letting kids go to bed pretty much when they feel like it but contrarily, making sure they have a bath every day also works! Getting them into music lessons very young and allowing them to quit later if at some point practicing changes from a pleasure to an undesired chore also works! Etc. As for parenting older kids, according to my limited experience after about 14 they don’t want much parenting any more and kind of request mostly to be left alone. I put my foot down about taking public transportation in the city late at night and seeing revolting horror movies, but my ex-teenagers (now both married young women) managed to get around even those simple rules on occasion.

    It all comes down to (1) parenting goes on a case-by-case basis, (2) all sensible ways can be good, (3) freaking out is not good.


  3. ionf
    June 26, 2014 at 7:56 am

    I’ve encountered a kind of a curve ball. We have a one and a four year old, and we’ve signed on to their daycare’s “Hands are not for hitting” messaging. However, scientists have recently discovered that faces are for punching*. We’re not sure how to integrate this into our parenting style. Does Aunt Pythia do parenting?

    * http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/brv.12112/abstract;jsessionid=3C07AC6B30A15D9D63EB40616F9CDB72.f01t02


  4. ionf
    June 26, 2014 at 7:58 am

    Click ‘Ion Freeman’. It’s where links go when you paste them in the ‘website’ box.


  5. June 26, 2014 at 9:08 am

    I’m with you on everything there apart from the “Don’t make them take music lessons” part, though even that is probably good advice for a large percentage of parents.


  6. June 26, 2014 at 10:24 am

    Regarding (#4) little kids, would you agree it is also important to talk to them? Can be as simple as narrating their experiences.


  7. MikeM
    June 26, 2014 at 10:36 am

    If you take the long view, one of the best reasons for having kids is having grandkids!


    • June 26, 2014 at 10:37 am

      Holy crap I can’t believe I didn’t mention that. I’m already knitting for my grandkids.


  8. June 26, 2014 at 1:58 pm

    One of my biggest challenges in parenting my now almost 17 year old son has been how to handle being a good mom to someone who is an artist (I’m not). My son wants to be a contemporary ballet dancer, which was fine, until we got the details. The 80 mile round trip 5-7 days per week for hours of instruction, rehearsal and performance. That happens all but two weeks out of the year and those weeks he is at a hugely expensive intensive dance camp half way across the country. Makes graduating from high school, even for an intellectually engaged kid, an effort.

    I love him. I support him. I can’t believe that he really wants to put his body through all of that year-in and year-out–it just feels like my dearly beloved child is a different kind of human than I can even imagine being. All of which makes parenting him in any substantive way very difficult.


  9. alex
    June 26, 2014 at 11:36 pm

    What about rules/limits on dating and romantic relationships, especially in high school? My mom wouldn’t let me date until I finished grad school. I didn’t like it then, but it might have been for the best, since the girls I liked back then now don’t seem to resemble “quite the angel that I remembered in my dreams” (thank you Garth).


  10. Sawgill
    June 27, 2014 at 2:14 am

    #2 is a female thing, no? Us guys for the most part agree to the family thingy if for no other
    reason than to make peace with the raging hormonal partner who’s biological clock is
    running out. Plus we love her, want to make her happy, and have a family with her…..

    There is another main source of babies and that is through horny youngsters getting knocked up in their late teens/early 20’s but they are not in your ‘plan ahead’ cohort. Calls for another discussion methinks..

    Routines are very important for youngsters. My old school attitude calls for family dinner every evening. I know, this is hard for working parents to commit to but the dividends are more than worth the effort.

    As for music lessons.. I think one should engage the kiddies in all sorts of activities if you have the means to do so. Religion comes to mind along with activities both group and individual, sports, etc. The more experiences the better. In the end you give your child the option to either embrace or reject.

    If you can stand back, be supportive, and not be too controlling there is a good chance that your children will grow up to be individuals that want to include you in their lives. Priceless.


    • ionf
      June 27, 2014 at 8:53 am

      So, if she’s wanting kids because of her hormones, I presume you’re with her because of your own. I don’t have any idea what the research on the topic says, but it certainly was not true in my case that I did not want kids, and I think in general is a canard we promote in order to sleaze out of doing or share of raising said children


      • Sawgill
        June 27, 2014 at 10:26 pm


        My wife and I married because we both knew we were good partners for each other and would be good parents together as well. Turns out we were right on both counts. Guess my sarcasm was misplaced.


  11. FogOfWar
    June 27, 2014 at 10:49 am

    What actually happens if a toddler sticks a fork into an electric outlet? I had a EE tell me once that the current would run right through the prongs to close the circuit and the baby would actually be fine. That sounds plausible, but wouldn’t the fork itself get really hot and maybe spark, and what about a small amount of runoff current going to ground through the toddler?




    • ionf
      June 27, 2014 at 9:00 pm

      Babies are conductors. It really depends what else is touching him or her, but it’s best not to experiment.


  12. Josh
    June 30, 2014 at 1:42 am

    If you took the time to read the Tiger Mother book, I hope you got a couple of useful tidbits out of it. While most of it is objectionable and the author hard to respect, I find it helpful to be respectful of every parenting experience made available for my vicarious learning. Even if I avoid everyone else’s parenting mistakes, I’m sure there are plenty more I can discover on my own.

    If anyone here is up for a serious discussion of the topic, I’m particularly curious to know your thoughts on pushing kids when they are struggling with something. Let’s quickly dispense with the obvious strawmen:
    – something they hate (ok, don’t push them to do it)
    – something they are only doing to please you (ok, don’t push them to do it)
    – something they aren’t ready to do (are you sure they aren’t ready, but, if so, then don’t push them)

    In the tiger mother book, the example I have in mind is the one piano piece with challenging rhythms on two hands. As reported (falsely?) the daughter was delighted with herself when she managed to play it. In my own life, there have been plenty of times my-at-the-moment self didn’t want to put in the effort (swimming lessons, gym sessions, practicing music scales) but I was glad that someone gave me a push to get through it. There were also times when I didn’t get that push and later wish someone had added an impulse to keep me at it (karate, chess).


  13. July 3, 2014 at 6:37 pm

    1. Kids are expensive. Don’t think about the cost or you”ll never have them. They bring enormous pleasure (except when they don’t).
    2. In their most rebellious phase – when they tell you they don’t want you – you still need to be there for them. Give them space. Let them fail. But be ready to be there when THEY need you.
    3. It’s hard to be a good parent before you have actually raised them. (Catch 22.) .


  14. Savonarola
    July 17, 2014 at 5:51 am

    Ah, my oldest(s) are 14 also, and I have a little advice for parenting older kids. Of course, having reached this point, I know I’ll be proven wrong next Tuesday. That’s ok. I’m comfortable with being me and being wrong, and I will laugh next Tuesday when it happens.

    Progressively letting kids have as much responsibility as they can manage is hard, but necessary. It’s the older version of letting them do it themselves when they were little and it took a half hour you didn’t have for them to pick out and put on clothes, when you could have dressed them in under 4 minutes. What a mess they make. How you worry about them out doing things on their own. You just have to suck it up and make them learn about cleaning up their own messes. I ask them what they want to do about situations or issues that come up, and then we do what they say that they want to do. If they ask my advice, I give it; otherwise, I keep my mouth shut, which has never been one of my strong suits. That’s how you parent older kids: you try to enjoy the last of having them with you every day where you can touch them and laugh at their jokes. You marvel at how much they can do and how interesting they are as developing people. And you try to make sure that they had enough for breakfast.

    And I have two kids with special needs. That’s a whole other ball of wax. I’m having to actually push those two to take on responsibility and learn to take care of themselves. There’s more structure and scaffolding involved, but it is basically the same process but with no roadmap. Also a joy. Yes yes – expensive as hell and incredibly scary and draining. And I have no idea at this point if one of them will be with me for life or is capable of living independently. But this is where we are and I can’t imagine it otherwise.


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