I hear it almost daily from my parent peers: “Obviously, he/she does NOT have kids!” Whether the offender dared to give some child-related advice, extend an invite at a “child-unfriendly” time or make another luxury purchase, the replay is thick with judgement and sarcasm.
Rejecting the perspective of non-parent friends and family is the piece of this scenario that makes me mental. Firsthand experience being the sole prerequisite to having a valid opinion is absurd. No one would suggest a seasoned political adviser is not qualified to be a campaign manager just because he or she has never held an office, that a judge cannot discern an appropriate sentence because he or she has never been charged with a crime, or that an oncologist who has not personally fought cancer is not equipped to treat it.
Maybe non-parents can’t relate to the everyday chaos and brain drain that is parenting, but they do have a legitimate point of view from their own experience. Parenting qualifications are as much about how much life you’ve lived (which may not correlate with age) as they are about child status. With just under four decades logged and nine years as a parent, my kids can only benefit from the larger, more diverse pool of combined experience from all of my friends and family. Together, we have a shot at increasing the average age when each of my three kids first try to run away from home.
Why I need parenting advice from non-parents...
1. They Are Friends For Life
I’ve trusted some of these people for 25+ years. We obsessed over Trapper Keeper designs and tryouts, pegged our jeans, belted Alanis, pierced (each other’s) ears, road-tripped, traded talking for sleep, managed messy choices and above all, showed up. My friends (old and new) have great instincts, and I’ve wanted their counsel on everything from fashion to first jobs and the bigger life decisions that followed. Yet none of them have any related credentials. How is parenthood any different? What’s more, some of my non-parent friends are teachers, dietitians and nurses, which makes them loads more educated on child development than I am.
2. They Too Were Once Kids
Each of these friends knows what it feels like to be a kid and to be a part of a family with varying degrees of (dys)function. They remember the year their brother or sister got to have a roller rink birthday party when the most exciting element of theirs was that the Kool-Aid matched the crepe paper. Perhaps they were shy or hated being the middle child. My kids are not me and our family does not look exactly like the one in which I was raised. They could easily relate to some of these memories and feelings more than my own.
3. They Too Have Parents
Non-parents’ stories about parenting styles are just as valuable as any others. They remember their dad keeping his cool about a fender bender or their mom apologizing most times after she lost hers. Maybe rules were stressed without rationale, driving a wedge of silence into their teen years. I can learn from parents who chose humor when my friends expected a hammer or who effectively built up or chipped away their self-confidence. One of my friends shares that her mom never mentioned anything about her body or appearance unless it was a compliment and still today, the positive impact is immeasurable.
4. They Have The Perspective To Call My Crazy
As parents surrounded by parents (and Pinterest), sometimes it is hard to check yourself. These friends are not caught up in the parenting bubble and remind me that that a packed calendar of activities and extravagant summer camps are not the golden tickets to a perfect childhood. Some say it was good for them to earn and save money to purchase their beloved Guess jeans. Our child-centered culture also means many of my non-parent friends are inundated with parenting content. One such friend has consistently sent me the best of the best pieces I’ve ever read on raising strong girls. Also, there’s sleep. I know some of my non-parents friends get either more quantity or quality sleep and I am thankful for the clarity they bring to our conversations.
5. They Are The People I Hope My Children Become
I would be so proud if my children were half as kind, loyal, compassionate, brave, smart, bold, funny, empathetic and generous as each of my friends with the strongest of these qualities. Some aforementioned friends are parents and some are not. These characteristics are learned by example. Spending time exclusively with friends who have families that look like ours would be contributing to a bubble mentality I want to avoid at all costs. I’m humbled that all of my friends take an interest in my kids – especially those non-parents who would not choose that status. I can appreciate being around others’ kids may be sad or hard for these friends at times.
One friend who happens to not have kids treats my daughters to one-on-one birthday outings. The nuggets she shares after their much anticipated adventures and chats show the beautiful freedom in spending time with role models who are not your parents. My girls get to say things in a way they may not say them to me and receive the benefit of a different response. Their trust and friendship with this special “aunt” is no doubt one of the best gifts I could be given, as a parent.
Still today, I have a bond like this with my childhood piano teacher. Her support as a counselor and confidant has been a great comfort to me and to my parents. She was unarguably the secret ingredient to all of us surviving my teens.
That season is not so far away. I have to keep my tribe close so when my kids run away, I’ll like where they land and trust they’ll come back with a fresh perspective.
This post was originally published on Life Trumps Fiction.