The Best (Parenting) Advice

Crowdsourced, of course

We all get a lot of parenting advice. Much of it, as a friend of mine often says, “is worth what you pay for it.” But is there any actual good advice? At the end of Cribsheet, I talk about the best parenting advice I’ve gotten — from our first pediatrician — which boiled down to try not to think about it. Part of the reason this was the best advice for me is that I think about everything far, far too much.

But I got to wondering: is there anything systematic about the best advice? Is there some really best advice, or is the best advice really different for us all? Of course, the only way to answer is with data. So I did a little survey, and about 350 people weighed in with answers to two simple questions: What’s the best parenting advice you’ve gotten, and who gave it to you?

The Best Advice

Some of your best advice goes for the very practical. Here are a few of those which I think we can all use.

  • Frozen mini bagels make the world's best teething rings. They're cold but also tasty. 

  • When out with a stroller - Reverse through doors. 

  • To reset, put them in water or bring them outside.

  • Read the manuals for baby gear you get before the baby arrives. (Editors note: this reminded me of the time Jesse almost threw the snap-and-go base into Lake Michigan when we couldn’t fold it up after the first pediatrician visit. Ahh, memories.)

  • Use dye free Tylenol so it doesn’t stain anything when they vomit it back up 

  • The shoulders in the onesie are so you can pull it down when there’s a poopsplosion

But most of the best advice was more general — more about how to approach parenting, rather than literally how to deal with poopsplosions. To attempt to summarize this a bit better, I coded up the responses into categories, and put them in a pie chart.

The Winner: The most popular category of advice was what I call “It’s a Phase”. 16% of people said some version of that answer. The main tenor was, as this person said: “It will pass. Bad things (and good things) last 2 weeks max”.

I found this really resonant. So much of early parenting, in particular, feels eternal in the hard moments, and there is something so helpful in recognizing that this will end. You won’t be (this) tired forever, your child will not have this type of tantrum forever, they will eventually poop alone. A natural implication is to try to enjoy the good parts of right now, and not despair at the tough ones.

Just Relax: A lot of responses centered around a version of “It will be fine” or “Do What Works”. The message was some combination of “Don’t sweat the small stuff” and you cannot be ruled by the advice of others (e.g. “They can have an opinion, but they don’t get a vote.”). A piece of this, also, seems to be letting yourself off the hook (e.g. If you feel you've got it 60% right, it's a good day! ).

I also got this gem: The only fracture that can't wait until morning is an elbow--so if it ain't an elbow, and the child is comfortable, no need for ER at night.

Value Yourself: As parents, we are not always the best at recognizing that we — or our relationship — needs attention, too. A number of people pointed to advice from others to put themselves first, at last some of the time. You have to take care of yourself first so  you can best take care of your baby -- the airline/oxygen mask rule! More concretely: “Go to therapy.”

Beyond yourself, people pointed to advice about prioritizing your relationship with your partner, if you have one. As one person put it: Your spouse is not the enemy; the baby is the enemy. 

Sleep Related: And finally in the big categories: sleep. Many of us benefit from advice on sleep. I know what you’re thinking — what is the advice tell me right now. However, there wasn’t one distinct type of advice. The “best advice” came in the form of bedtime routines, encouragement to sleep train, permission to co-sleep and embracing the concept of “wake-windows”. Sleep training came in, in this group, for the most positive votes, but I’m guessing that reflects my audience.

Summary: This was fun to read! I definitely learned something (e.g. the thing about fractured elbows). In very broad strokes, my read of much of this is some version of have perspective and play the long game. A hard thing to remember when you’re in the weeds, especially early on, but a good one.

The Best Advice Giver

Who’s the best advice giver? I made a word cloud. Moms, friends, pediatricians and therapists for the wins. Colleagues, books, aunts and siblings coming in for the second. Oh, and Instagram. Shout out to the Cup of Jo account, which was the most commonly mentioned.

A Final Note:

I will leave you with this final piece of best advice to contemplate:

If one is to be a parent, one must adopt the disposition of a placid cow.”


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