Jan 242014

The internet is a strange and wonderful place. It takes approximately three seconds to find out the average temperature in Phoenix in February, which is helpful when planning a trip to Phoenix in February. It takes about 15 seconds to figure out that the cat’s psychotic behavior doesn’t mean she’s demon possessed, but it means that she’s in heat, which is just great! (Not really!) Also, when you get a headache combined with some nausea it takes about 45 seconds to determine that you are either a little dehydrated OR you have a rare and fatal disease, which is not helpful at all. The internet is full of good and useful information AND full of unsolicited advice and lies, and it’s all just a click away.

I glanced to my right and noted that the clock read 10:15. It was a late dinner, even for us. The article I’d read earlier in the day came to mind. I looked across the table at my healthy children and wondered why I even read the article. I wasn’t looking for advice of any kind, let alone the kind the article was offering. What led me to click on that link?

Was it the catchy title? Was it the folks who were sharing it and “liking” it? It’s no secret that I expect all the kids to get a college degree, so reading “How I made sure all 12 of my kids could pay for college themselves” might have piqued my interest.

I passed the salt across the kitchen table an hour and forty-five minutes before the clock announced a new calendar day, and I realized that according to the article we were doing it all wrong.

I will give Mr. Thompson the benefit of the doubt and assume that he was trying to encourage young parents and give them tools. I will assume he wasn’t trying to give them a crushing burden accompanied by a magnificent guilt trip, all while polishing his halo.

Despite giving him the benefit of the doubt, the article bothered me. He put this article out there and it seems as though he’s a fan of critical thinking, what with his emphasis on education, AP classes, and college, so I assume it will be okay if I use a little of that critical thinking while I read.

I determined that Mr. Thompson and the Thompson family

  1. live in an alternate universe where the days are longer than our conventional 24 hour days (unlikely)
  2. must be suffering from nostalgia induced amnesia (likely), or
  3. must be lying (Hmmm . . . maybe I should say, “exaggerating”)

Since . . .

“All kids had to play some kind of sport . . . they had to play something. All kids had to be in some kind of club: Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, history, drama, etc. They were required to provide community service. We would volunteer within our community and at church.” So they participated in sports, clubs, and volunteered, and were home and ready to make dinner (consisting of all the food groups) that was served promptly at 5:30. Dinner was consumed and chores were done in time for the mandatory study hours between 6:00 and 8:00. I (only) have six children who participate in all the same sorts of activities and there is no way . . . unless . . . I suppose . . . the Thompsons could live in that alternate universe.

I determined that this family could pose (photoshopped, of course) for a poster heralding white privilege and poverty tourism. “For Eagle Scout projects, we would have the entire family help. Once we collected old clothes and took them to Mexico and passed them out. The kids saw what life was like for many families and how their collections made them so happy and made a difference.” Gather around kids, let’s pat ourselves on the back for giving away our sweat-stained t-shirts. Aren’t you glad our old tennis shoes and worn clothes can make these poor unfortunate people feel so happy? Aren’t we wonderful? Now hurry, we don’t want to miss our flight home!

I determined that I feel pity for the Mrs. Thompson in this family. She had all the fun of stretch marks and labor pains to look forward to, but for over 15 years she didn’t get to go on any vacations. “My wife would stay with the little ones. Remember, for 15 years, she was either pregnant or just had a baby. My kids and I hiked across the Grand Canyon, to the top of Mount Whitney, across the Continental Divide, across Yosemite.” I’m sure she enjoyed the lovely pictures of all the wonderful places her hubby took the kids.

I determined that this mother and father should win the Pulitzer Prize for guilt-inducing literature. (There is such a thing, right?) “We did not have snacks between meals. We always had the four food groups (meat, dairy, grain, fruits and vegetables) and nearly always had dessert of some kind. To this day, our kids are not afraid to try different foods, and have no allergies to foods. They try all kinds of new foods and eat only until they are full. Not one of our kids is even a little bit heavy. They are thin, athletic, and very healthy. With 12 kids, you would think that at least one would have some food allergies or food special needs.” No food allergies! And it’s all because they are such great parents. So if you have a child with a food allergy, or any issues really, then you’ve obviously done something wrong. If only you’d read this article sooner! Just imagine.

I determined that he is a big fan of consistency and rule following, “There were no exceptions to the rules.” I determine, however, that he himself is not a big fan of abiding by rules set by others. For example, “All the kids were required to take every Advanced Placement class there was. We did not let entrance scores be an impediment. We went to the school and demanded our kids be let in.” You say consistency, I say hypocrisy, let’s call the whole thing off.

Mr. Thompson put forth this “formula” for raising the perfect family. I think he has good intentions. I get it. Rules are good. Consistency is good. Independence is good. College is good. Unfortunately, the message that these things are good is lost on the folks who most need to hear it; the folks who struggle most with boundaries and consistency are the same folks who buy into the idea that there is a “formula.” They can’t figure out why the “formula” doesn’t seem to produce the same results for them, so they end up giving up. 

I saw folks sharing this link and praising the article. If this “formula” works for you, then great! (And please let me know where you found the portal to that alternate universe!) I worry because some lonely, tired, worn-out mom of a few kids living in an apartment complex in Sometown, U.S.A., is going to read this article and feel horrible about herself and her kids. I know a lot of moms just like her. She tends to compare herself to every other mother she comes across, and she’s optimistic and trusting. She doesn’t have the natural gift of skepticism and snarky logic. She isn’t capable of laughing at this man’s illogical conclusions because she’s too nice and because she’s too busy worrying and comparing and trying to figure out how to be in two places at once.

I want that mom to close that link and go read a book to her kids, even if it’s not the appointed time of the day for reading. I want her to kiss them on the tops of their heads and give them hugs and not worry so much that they’ve never built a car. It’s going to be okay if her kids never take their secondhand clothing to Mexico themselves. I want to tell this mom that even if she’d made her kid eat last night’s vegetables instead of that cookie for a snack he would still be allergic to peanuts and potatoes. I want her to know that it’s okay to go on vacation with the family, even if she’s pregnant and has toddlers in tow. It’s completely okay to go to a hotel! I want her to know her family needs her there with them more than they need to learn to pitch a tent in the rain.

I want her to know that her children are not robots and life is more than schedules and checklists.

The internet is a strange and wonderful place. It allows us to connect, but not always in meaningful and useful ways.

Here is some unsolicited advice: don’t look for your parenting role models on the internet. Look around in your real life where it’s difficult for you and other folks to hide blemishes and warts.

Most important, get to know your kids, so you will know what’s absolutely, unequivocally best for them. So get off the interwebs (after reading this, of course!) and go get to know your kid.

  2 Responses to “Unsolicited Advice”

  1. Amen! Amen! So glad you’re back to writing!

  2. Another interesting and wonderful commentary by our dear Kian. Keep on writing, look forward to the next Dirt Road Diary.

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