May 2, 2008

The Irony of Parenting

It's normal to occasionally question your parenting skills—like when you realize that in the brief 4 seconds you glanced at the TV for the sports scores, your little darling has disappeared into the bathroom and is splashing toilet water everywhere. Or when you're leaving for work and, as you pull out onto the street, you see your babe comfortably sitting in her car seat … waving to you from the porch.

I'm usually confident that I'm good dad, but lately I've been doubting myself. It was easy to raise an infant. There were books that told you exactly how much they should sleep, how much they should eat and how much money you should prepare to spend on sleepwear, formula and books guiding you on how much they should sleep and eat. But once that baby hits nine months, everything changes. The books are less specific and more general. Three naps turn into 1-to-2 naps—or five naps. Gates are needed to block the stairs. You can introduce solid foods into her diet, like bananas, cottage cheese and Chipotle, but not eggs. It's a whole new ballgame.
So I asked the doctor, "How much regular food should we give her?"

"Whatever you feel comfortable with."

Whatever I feel comfortable with? What does that mean? I feel comfortable with a well-educated doctor telling me precisely what to do. But after 8 years of medical school and $100,000-plus in student loans, the doctor would prefer to leave it up to me, the guy who took one half-semester of health class in high school. Sure I got an "A," and if you need statistics on what percentage of high schoolers used steroids between 1988 and 1993, I'm your guy. But we certainly didn't cover topics like What To Feed Your Baby At Nine Months.

I know what you're thinking: You must have turned to your parents and in-laws for advice, right? My answer to you, of course, is ARE YOU CRAZY? Parents of new parents are knowledgeable about a lot of things, like how long you should bake a potato or how to get projectile vomit stains out of your carpet. They are also helpful in the early stages by bringing you food and watching the baby while you get a few minutes of sleep. They are also … well … if we followed their ways, we would be feeding Ella gallons of apple juice and letting her roll around in the back of our station wagon with nothing strapping her in. And before you shake your head, remember that your parents probably did both too—and likely much worse.

The irony in all this is: While I'm constantly questioning my skills as a parent, the newly anointed grandparents (like all newly anointed grandparents) are 100% confident in theirs. They seem to "know" what to do at all corners. They can "advise" on anything. They don't "appreciate" your use of quote marks. Why? Because they raised wonderful children. And when the facts are laid down like that, it's hard to argue.

But the real fact is that times have changed. There's more information available today than there was a decade ago. Kids need car seats. Sugary apple juice is not good for them. Kids' growth could be stunted by secondhand smoke, alcohol and the song "It's Raining Men."
When it comes down to it, we love our parents for raising us to the best of their abilities—and are thankful we survived. You can't fault them for the now-outrageous parental guidelines they abided by years ago; they used the best information available at the time to do the best that they could. Now my wife and I are doing the same. Ultimately, we're all parents-in-training and that's OK. It's how we're supposed to be.

I guess it's that thought that has rekindled my self-confidence as a parent. What's good for our kids is always evolving. Several decades from now, when Ella has children of her own, I'm sure she's going to look at how we raised her and say things like:

I can't believe they fed me cottage cheese that early! (and)
Car Seats? How did we survive without Fully-Padded Car Bubbles? (and)
They let me splash around in toilet water!—you think I want THEIR "advice"?

I just hope that when she has her kids, she'll be able to forgive us like we've forgiven our folks. And when she does something that differs from what I did to her, I hope I can remember these five key words: Whatever you feel comfortable with. I guess those 8 years of medical school were valuable after all.

Oh, and the answer is three. Three percent of high schoolers have tried steroids.

The Life of Dad is updated every other Friday (barring the call of family duties). Thanks for stopping by and following my attempts to be a good dad, husband and co-ed softball player. I hope you visit again. -- Brian