Sunday, June 26, 2011

Galaxy Quest: Advice for Parents Who Want to Know

It feels so good to be with my grown children back in the USA this week. My oldest son and his family have been spoiling me rotten, and as I was wrestling this morning with a title for this musing, I remembered our perfectly American Saturday night last night: a mega bowl of popcorn and a popular movie silly. "Galaxy Quest."

My son gave me a stack of photos yesterday – you know, the old fashioned kind, the ones you have to hold in your hand or paste in a scrapbook to look at. He had come across a roll of film and, curious about the contents, had it developed. The pictures were from Christmas 1992. What struck and relieved me most, as I sorted through these hard-copy memories, was that no one posed with their new toy like a fishermen beside his trophy tuna. Instead, in every picture, my children were hugging somebody.

To have physical evidence that my kids really loved and appreciated each other as children, and that we -- all the adults in their lives -- found joy in their childhood, meant a lot to me, for my memory is aging and I am well aware that I cannot trust it completely anymore: either I get little too rose-colored, like an old love-letter curling slightly at the edges, or I become critical of my past, like an old epistle, read so often it takes on too much meaning.

There are some things, however, I remember with absolute clarity. This is the biggest: I LOVED being a mommy. I loved every stage of being a mommy: infants, toddlers, elementary school, tweens, teens, young adults: bring it on. However, I am sure now that I am different now. That is what going through all those stages does to a woman. Grandma’s hair turns silver so that her children will know she is different; so that, as adults, they will forgive and revere her. The wiry head is a lopsided crown proclaiming: I did it. I was imperfect, but I did it.

Two-Plus (today's name for the precious person who married my second son), is about to give birth to her first baby. Evidently, at her recent baby shower, a well-meaning mommy-peer, who is also new to the ranks, gave her this earnest piece of advice: Do not listen to anyone else’s ideas about parenting. It’s your baby, and no one else can tell you how to parent. My darling Two-Plus was amazed.

Her friend’s green-counsel reminds me of a Jerry Seinfeld routine about helpful aliens parking their spaceship in the yard just as Dad is putting everything in the car for a family road-trip. Surrounded by too much luggage for the trunk, Dad says: ‘EVERYBODY STAND BACK. IT GOES IN A WAY ONLY I UNDERSTAND.’ ‘But Dad,’ you whisper, ‘they came from another galaxy! I think they know how to pack.’

I admit I am increasingly wrinkled, shrinking, and poofy, but I am not an alien. Whatever worthy advice I can offer younger mommies and daddies is because I am human too. It’s not because I was Mother-Extraordinaire, but because I was Mother-Pulling-Hair. I over-extended, over-expended, and over-expected. Most of my mistakes, the kids and I grew through, but some of them had consequences that echo in our lives today.... Buuuut if you aren’t interested in becoming the wiser-then-I-was (because the only “how-to” you trust is the book you wrote yourself) then all I can tell you is how it feels to live with the consequences.

I have, and will continue, to share my parenting experience (good and bad) at Musings and in other ways with younger mums and dads who want to know. But for today, standing here in the driveway, surmising all the bags and equipment you have yet to pack, my best advice is to go get some more. ADVICE that is. The parents who have earned their silver crown have a wealth of valuable information.

Toss the “feed-Baby-pureed-liver” prattle if you want (I'm not talking about heeding Know-It-Alls) , but listen for the meaningful stuff from meaningful people. Ask ‘em ('cuz the worthy ones won't necessarily tell you unless you ask) how they got across the galaxy, make notes, and then -- if I were you -- take a picture together. When younger people come to you for your experience someday, you’ll need proof that the kids were once short; natural color hair was normal; and -- though they have long since returned to the stars -- it was wizened, generous aliens who helped you sort the car for that family trip.

Muse with me: What's the best parenting advice you have ever received?

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Domestic Diva said...

Best parenting advice I ever received, wow that is a big question. I think the best "Advice" came from my brilliant mother, who gave me something more than advice, she gave me a thought to think. The thought was "There is nothing wrong here". I was relaying to her a frustrating experience I'd had with my toddler in front of my mother in law, whom I love and adore and want to earn her respect as a mother myself, but at this moment in time my toddler was just absolutely out of control. When I turned to my mother in law and asked her if my husband had ever acted that way, she actually said no, that she'd never allowed it. My heart sunk to my toes and I felt like an utter failure. In all fairness, I'd asked for it. As I cried this story to my mom, she told me something that struck me to my very core "There is nothing wrong here" She smiled. She said that as long as I think things should be different I would always find myself coming up short. Comparing my child to an ideal would just frustrate both of us. Sure, she told me to try new approaches, hold a vision of the behavior I want to see and strive for, encouraged me to be friendly but firm, but through the process I must trust that THERE IS NOTHING WRONG with that process, that evolution, the learning the growing and the experiencing for BOTH my son and me. I can't tell you how many times my frustration has evaporated in the heat of the moment and I was able to handle things in a level headed way because I remembered the simple truth that there is nothing wrong with the situation. I use it, when in the past I may have responded with anger, frustration, or embarrassment. This thought has allowed me to be imperfect, but amazingly has been the root of some of my most successful parenting moments because instead of being consumed with how it "should be" I accept how it is and move from there. Thank you for this post,Mona, and your beautiful perspective, it was a gem I added to my growing treasure trove of parenting tools.

Valerie said...

I love to get advice from people who have been here before and lived through it all! :) One specific thing I remember is to enjoy the moment, even when the kids are little and you are frazzled, you will wish yourself back to that moment for a little sticky, gooey kiss and a hug from those tiny arms. I seriously doubted that sometimes, but it is so true.

ldsjaneite said...

None, yet. At least, none that I really paid attention to since I couldn't quite apply it right away. Hmmm. Unless you count what we studied from Elder Nelson's talk today: my faith now affects my posterity's faith later. That and advice like it is probably the best I could get as a future parent--to live the Gospel in complete obedience and with a cheerful, full of hope, grateful attitude.

I never thought I'd hear "Galaxy Quest" and "gospel" in the same post. :-) Welcome back to the U.S.!

Sarah said...

A professor once encouraged me to meet with my sealer BEFORE the day I got married. My experience with following that very advice was so profound that I hope to encourage such an opportunity for each of my own children.

Mona said...

Diva: That is SO wonderful. When we are in the process of learning, of progress, everything is going exactly as it should! A friend named Pat recently reminded me of that truth but I had not directly related it to parenting until now. Excellent! Thank you for leaving such a thoughtful comment that will surely help other Musers!

Mona said...

Valerie: Living in the moment is the essence of joy isn't it - and especially in appreciating the experience of parenthood. AMEN

ldsjaniete: My advice to you specifically: Now's the perfect time to stash up the parenting advice and observations! and YES - your faith NOW affects generations yet to come. Absolutely.

Sarah: REALLY! I've never heard that. Our Hannah can take advantage now of YOUR good advice with her upcoming marriage!

Bri... only she said...

From Two-Plus:

I think I can understand where my friend's advice comes from, even if I don't agree with it. Not from some prideful, stubborn refusal to try new approaches to parenting, but perhaps from acquainting well-meaning advice with criticism. I can certainly relate. I have, as I hope many other women can relate, fretted over what the people who mean the most to me think of me. Like Diva, (thank you for your beautiful comment; I'll have to work hard to remember that) I yearn for mutual respect from the other mothers in my life, especially my mother in law. . . and I often feel like I must earn that respect. In such times, the well-meaning, even well-spoken bits of advice can feel like prodding attempts to chasten or criticize. But it is in those moments that I forget that the beauty about those people who's opinions matter most to me is that they already love me, freely and without restraint, for who I am. I am convinced that is our elders' (not elderly) special way of protecting, bonding, and showing love to us.

After experiencing all the advice you receive from random strangers the moment your belly pops out and announces the impending arrival of a little one, I have come to understand the absolute need of women to give and receive advice. It is a bonding tool. Even when it is silly, probably untrue, and bears little resemblance to actual advice, such as "Your round (versus pointed or square) belly means you're going to have a girl, not a boy," it creates an essential connection to more experienced women, which then allows us younger women to know to whom we can turn to when we need real parenting advice.

The other truth about advice I feel like we must realize is that is all it is: advice. It is free. You can take it or leave it and I doubt seriously whether most people will even notice if you took their advice. After all, even what my friend said was parenting advice: how ironic.

I can't wait to read more of what the best parenting advice people received was. I think, after reading many mommy blogs, the most prevalent theme I have found, even if not stated explicitly as advice, is to look at everything with a sense of humor and not take yourself too seriously. Remember that parenting is a learning process and none of us are perfect, and we all do better when we don't think others are watching us critically, but instead watching us with love and encouragement, so just assume that is how people are looking at you.

Sara Lyn said...

My mom's advice for parenting has always been, "Follow the Spirit. Follow the Spirit. Follow the Spirit." Sometimes the Spirit works through other people, as we all know. So my advice would be listen to others' advice and follow the Spirit on whether you should pay attention or not. :)