Over the years, new parents have often asked me what, if any, parenting advice I had to give: what they should do, what they should buy. Usually I would tell them three things: one, that parenting was going to be twice as hard as they had ever imagined; two, that it was also going to be twice as much fun; and three, that they shouldn’t let the salesman talk them into buying a lot of unnecessary crap.
Lately, however, I have come to the conclusion that this advice is no longer sufficient; that these days it is just too “pre-internet.” (Yes, there was a time before the internet. There was a time before we had round the clock coverage of every child-centered tragedy, before there were websites devoted to public schooling, charter schooling, home schooling, unschooling, and no schooling. Before we discovered, as a recent headline in The Onion summed up so well, that “Studies Now Show That Every Type of Parenting Produces Miserable, Lonely Adults.”)
Now, with all of this information available to us every minute of every day, if a new parent were to ask me my advice I would just tell them one thing: they’re wrong. Completely, utterly, 100%, wrong. About everything. And that they should probably get used to being wrong, because no matter what they do, or how they do it, they are going to be doing it wrong. And not only that, in all likelihood there is going to be somebody standing behind them in line at the grocery store who is all too willing to tell them just how wrong they are.
Or at the gym. Or the coffee shop. Or their nephew’s third birthday party. Any place, in fact, at which there is someone who has either raised a child, thought about raising a child, or once seen a picture of a child being raised on TV. In other words, anywhere.
There are very few other things we do in life where people feel so free to tell us when we are doing them wrong. If you get a new haircut, and it’s terrible, most people have the common decency to just ignore it. They don’t stop you on the street to say, “My cousin once got that exact same haircut; it looked terrible on her, too.”
You could argue, of course, that child-rearing is more important—and ultimately, affects more lives—than your typical bad haircut. And that’s true. But think of all of the things that are as important as how you raise your child, and that people still don’t feel free to comment on. Voting, for example. Even if you completely disagree with someone’s politics, it is still considered rude to ask them who they voted for and then call them a moron when they tell you. There is no such compunction when it comes to the decisions you make for your child. In fact, many people even consider it okay to ask you which intimate medical procedures your child has or has not had—and then tell you that you just made the wrong choice when you answer them. (Especially unhelpful after the procedure has just been done.) Sometimes I think that people confuse the adage “It takes a village to raise a child” with “It takes a committee”—or worse yet, “it takes a comment thread.”
So here’s my new idea—and an update on my parenting advice, as well. The next time a new parent asks me what I recommend they get for their newborn, I’m going to suggest that they get some of those bomber noise-blocking ear protectors that all of the hip babies are wearing at concerts these days. But I’m going to suggest that they get two pair: one for the baby, and one for themselves.
And that they both start wearing them absolutely everywhere.