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Seriously Kidding

Why I don't take parenting advice from non-parents

Published on Aug 19, 2014 6:41 PM

Among the squabbles my wife and I have over our two daughters, there is a kind that takes us on the trail of the girls' misbehaviour, over the rocky roads of my wife's murderous glares and voice-of-doom tirades directed at them, slowed down by my hapless pleas for a truce between mother and daughter(s), before coming to an almost abrupt end with my wife declaring: "I'm a teacher, I know how to discipline misbehaving children."

I have no doubt she is a teacher who manages her classroom effectively, teaches the students well and cares about them. But I nonetheless object to her treating our daughters like her students.

"You're Faith and Sarah's mother, not their teacher," I would protest. "The roles are different."

Parenting is not just about enforcing discipline, guiding your children in correct behaviour and building good character.

It is not just about knowing why the kids misbehave and eliminating the tantrums according to the meticulously observed and thoroughly researched techniques of experts.

Parents cannot, should not, parent dispassionately. They must not discipline their children objectively, emotionally removed. That is called training and my kids are not pets.

Being a parent means, above all, building, protecting and cherishing the emotional bond with the children. We parents cannot do anything but discipline in love, which is worlds apart from enforcing discipline without emotion.

To apply a sermon I once heard, if we just gave our tantrum-throwing kids what they deserve, that'd be justice; if we do not punish them as they deserve, that'd be mercy. But as parents, we often have to also take a third way: giving them what they don't deserve - we have to lavish on them understanding and compassion, and this is grace and love.

Which is why I strongly believe non-parents, even those as "highly qualified" as Supernanny Jo Frost, should not be telling parents how to be parents.

They know only justice and judge parents who don't dispense justice to be merciful or, worse, lenient. They don't see that children need grace from their parents, room to make mistakes without daddy and mummy coming down hard on their every misstep.

Grace is not mercy or leniency. It is discipline tempered by love. It is a parent saying to a child who has behaved badly: "You are having a bad moment and I would like you to change for the better. Maybe not right now, because you are feeling embarrassed that you're being disciplined in front of others, but you must change for the better over time."

It is knowing that a child's overall growth and development are not dependent on correcting a mistake right there and then, or else.

Non-parents mostly see only those unfortunate moments. Parents must see their children in the context of a lifetime.

So I don't take kindly at all to non-parents dispensing parenting advice from the sidelines.

They would not understand the context of the lifetime. They would not understand the need to wrap discipline in love. They would not understand that children need their parents' grace.

Like football spectators yelling at the players on the field to "pass better mah", "tackle leh" or "shoot lah", they see only the problem and the problem must be fixed, pronto, according to their tunnel vision.

It is no better if non-parents dished parenting advice based on "my parents did this and that when I was a kid, and I turned out fine".

Firstly, unless you turned out to be an exemplary human being entirely without flaws, you really shouldn't be using yourself as an example of the product of model parenting.

Secondly, you've had the benefit of a larger context and more time to turn out what you imagine to be fine, while you are looking at only isolated incidents involving my children.

Thirdly, having once been a kid does not qualify you to teach me to parent my kids. That would be like me telling a driver how to drive because I've sat in a car, like me telling a doctor how to carry out surgery because I've been operated upon, like me telling a director how to make his film because I've watched many movies.

That's not to say I won't listen, ever, to non- parents.

I would appreciate hearing from non-parents about how my situation is being perceived by others in public, and then I would try to act in such a way as to be considerate of others, even as I try to parent my child with grace.

This is the equivalent of a film critic writing about how some parts of a movie don't work because his imagination wasn't sufficiently captured, but not telling a director exactly how to shoot and edit a particularly problematic scene.

I once heard a pastor joke about how he does not have to have been dead in order to deliver a sermon comforting the bereaved at a funeral service. Laughs aside, that is a false analogy.

The appropriate analogy is that he should have experienced bereavement to comfort the bereaved. After all, he is not talking to the dead about their afterlife journey.

Similarly, a non-parent can certainly empathise with my daughters but, please, don't try to put yourself in my shoes.

What kind of advice have you gotten from non-parents that infuriated you?