You are screwing up your kids with your good parenting

I think y'all know how I feel about parenting "expertise," "research," "advice," and the like.  There's no greater panic attack trigger for me than the cover of a Parenting magazine.  Not that I am opposed to social scientific/scientific inquiry or think we haven't made huge strides in raising kids over the last few decades (car seats, anyone?)  But we are now entering the land of the absurd with this stuff, where the advice is so precise, so specific, so overwhelming, you literally CANNOT WIN.  And besides all of that, even more (and better) scientific research indicates the power of genetics in who your kids will ultimately become.  Within the realm of "normal"/non-abusive parenting, your parenting methodology probably makes a marginal difference.  Those of you who basically pursue parenting as a profession in which you have a PhD and grind your own organic millet flour and teach your 2 year olds to solve quadratic equations just fainted right now, and when you wake up, you will immediately begin a coordinated campaign to have me officially shunned.  The rest of us, who basically skate by on Kraft mac-n-cheese (who am I kidding, my kids won't eat that either) and copious amounts of screen time, are relieved.  Because it's true.  Between genetics and peer influence and a million other variables that you have no control over (and that, incidentally, studies cannot weed out), raising kids is a massive crap shoot on a good day.

I came across an article this week that epitomizes the absurdity, and in fact, if I didn't know better, I would think it satire.  You can read it for yourself  here
But the gist of it is, praising your child, which the experts have been telling us to do for the last several decades, is actually stunting their development.  Yes, it's true.  There is an entire generation of people now who cannot function in life because their parents told them "Good job!" instead of "I appreciate how you motivated yourself to complete your self-determined goals."  Now, you still need to praise your kids, absolutely, but you have to do so in just the right way, at the right time, for the right reasons, with the right tone, when Mars is perfectly aligned with Venus, the moon is full, and the hydrangeas are blooming.  Otherwise your kids will be forever damaged.

In addition to not saying "good job"--which incidentally was the guidance 5 years ago, in order to avoid the even more ruinous "good girl/boy"--you should never ever ever give your kids an inaccurate compliment, to include that parental go-to of saying their objectively awful artwork is beautiful:

"Maybe you do think their artwork is beautiful [doubtful], but by praising kids in this way you’re encouraging them to look outside themselves for approval [because otherwise they will never ever ever look outside themselves for approval and will in fact transform themselves into super human, enlightened, celestial beings]. 'It teaches the child that his work can always be evaluated by others [which will never ever ever again happen in their lives.  I think I'll complain to my management next time performance evaluation time comes around that this is NOT the way to go.  My performance evaluation should be renamed "Neutral observations on work practices" and include lines such as, "The employee sits at her desk and moves her fingers over the keyboard."] which undermines his confidence [which will otherwise never ever ever be assaulted and on which they will soar through the skies like an eagle their entire existence, unscathed],' Dr. Markham says.... In one study, kids with low self-esteem who were overpraised on their artwork more often opted to then sketch a simpler drawing instead of a more challenging one [oh the horror, that my child might draw 3 monochromatic lines in stead of 10 rainbow ones], because it was the safer choice."

Who knew I was screwing up my kids by deeming their artwork beautiful???  Hello, isn't that one major purpose of art--at least the kind that normal people like and buy by the dozens in poster-prints at museum gift shops--to be beautiful?? AND ISN'T IT A PARENT'S JOB TO GUSH OVER A TODDLER'S RANDOM CRAYON SQUIGGLES???  WHO ELSE WILL EVER DO THAT FOR THEM???  Do you honestly expect me to say, "I see you have used a blue crayon to make a straight line"?  I think I will have earned the quizzical look from someone 1/4 my size and 1/7 my age that would result from such ridiculousness.

I think kids are smart enough to understand by an age at which it might matter that parental praise is usually total BS but an indication of that parent's unconditional love.  When my dad told me after I did not make choir in 10th grade that I sounded EXACTLY like Karen Carpenter,  I knew he was full of elephant dung (I do have a low voice, but I sing like Karen Carpenter the way vaccines cause autism), but the larger point was that he loved me and was trying to make me feel better.  Could there have been a better, more honest, more carefully researched and scientifically vetted way for him to buck me up? Sure.  But those studies had not been done in 1990, and anyway, the motivation would have been the same.  AND GUESS WHAT, I SURVIVED HIS BAD PARENTING (and numerous vaccines, incidentally).  I also continued to sing (and eventually made choir), because I think it's fun, and I eventually got to a place, through a journey we call life on which we all must go, where I could acknowledge that I am not a massive singing talent and that's OK.  I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and gosh-darn-it (some) people like me.

The article includes some advice that is, admittedly, not horrible and makes some sense.  But in general, I'd have to file this one away in my file of "Reasons American Moms Suffer from Anxiety and  Depression" (Dads, incidentally, on the whole seem to still live in a fantasy world where if you show up for your kids and love them, that's basically good parenting.  Dads, just stay in that world, trust me on this one).  This file also includes more articles cited in this article, with such cheery titles as (and I am NOT making these up):
52 of the worst parenting tips parents get
Parenting mistakes to avoid with toddlers
11 ways you're being a toxic parent without even knowing it
Things parents say that ruin their kids' trust
The five biggest myths parents buy into
Then they have the unmitigated gall to cite a book called, Parenting Without Fear.  Now you are just messing with us, right?

Here's the thing.  I'm not saying that parents can't screw up.  I can in fact go on at length about the ways I am already screwing up and how my own parents screwed up (which may be news to them given they did not parent in today's context of self-loathing).  The fact is, YOU WILL SCREW UP, that is a certainty, like Donald Trump tweeting something ridiculous or dogs pooping in the middle of the sidewalk.  And if you do everything the experts tell you to do today to perfection, by the time your kids are adults, there will be new experts with new guidance that probably directly contradicts the expert guidance you are eating up with spoon now.  The good (and bad) news is that the consequences of your specific screw-ups will probably be subsumed and rendered unidentifiable within the swirling morass of yours and your children's messy humanity.  I can predict with 100% certainty that my children and yours will have struggles, flaws, failures, humiliations, miseries, and frustrations.  They will absolutely make some poor choices (they might even GIVE UP or QUIT! accck!!!!), and they are guaranteed not live up to their full potential.  None of us do, because none of us are perfect.  Your parenting may or may not contribute to this.  Whether it does is unknowable and, in many ways, irrelevant.

Bottom line is this: Try your best.  Love your hardest.  Show your kids you accept their humanity, because that's your condition, too. Model humility and repentance for them.  Set an example of compassion for self and others.
And above all--
STOP READING SO MUCH PARENTING ADVICE!!!!  It will paralyze you with fear and kill your joy every. single. time.


  1. This. Is. Genius. Also hilarious.

  2. Holly, we must have done something right. You turned our pretty well, or is that unwelcomed praise? If it is, it is too late to harm you. Love DAD

    1. ha ha Dad, you did plenty right. I never minded your praise, even when it was patently absurd. I love you!


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