Most Of What You Know About Parenting Is Bullshit

Most Of What You Know About Parenting Is Bullshit
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Nothing you ever do in life – and I mean nothing — prepares you for parenthood. This is not an attempt to brace you for the unexpected. I’m not saying your heart won’t overflow with unconditional love — it almost certainly will. I’m not trying to prepare you for inevitable hardship — that will almost certainly come.

I’m trying to tell you this: most of what you know about parenting is probably bullshit. Books are bullshit. Classes are bullshit. The patronising, shaming articles your wife’s best friend posts on Facebook are especially bullshit.

Google’s advice is bullshit.

Your sister in law’s advice is bullshit

Your mother’s advice is bullshit.

It’s all probably bullshit.

More importantly: everything you think you know about being a mother or a father, your parenting strategies, the tiny building blocks you shape your parental identity around. All of it is bullshit.

I’m a father of two young boys. I have no idea what I’m doing. You don’t either.

Just admit it. You’ll feel better.

Admit that as a parent you have no fucking idea what you’re doing.

My oldest son is three-years-old. Before he was born I was as prepared as I could be. I read the books. I scoured through the articles. I asked trusted friends for advice.

I thought endlessly about the kind of parent I wanted to be. The way I wanted to raise my son. The values I wanted to instil in him.

My son slopped into the world an eight pound lump of flesh and fluid. Almost instantly I began putting these ideas into practice.

– I’d never do anything for my son that I thought he could do himself.
– I wouldn’t place my own limitations upon him. If he thought he could climb that tree, who am I to say he couldn’t?
– I’d just be there to catch him when he falls.
– (But also make sure to let him fall when he needs to)
– I’d teach him to respect women (to respect everyone, but especially women, particularly in this current climate)
– I’d allow him the space to be physical and move in his body. Movement is important for a number of reasons. I believe that.
– I’d teach him to be generous – with his possessions and his time.
– I’d teach him how to be resilient. I believe too many children lack resilience (and the ability to lose, or struggle and overcome)
– I’d try my absolute best (as a flawed human being) to be a positive example to my son. Above all, children learn by example

Those are just some of the values I tried to instil in my first child.

I fail (and have failed) constantly. I’ve made mistakes. I struggle with the choices and decisions I make every single day. Should I feel guilty about the time I let him watch all that TV. Does he play too many video games?

Does he play enough video games?

I constantly make mistakes, I stress about the mistakes I might make. I stress about my stress — am I projecting my own anxieties? Am I making things worse. Am I relaxed enough? Am I too relaxed?

Ultimately — If I’m being honest — I’m content. I’m proud of the three-year-old boy I’ve helped raise. Proud of the role I’ve played in his upbringing to this point. He is strong and he is brave. He tries new things and isn’t afraid to fall. He is resilient. He is generous and caring.

But is this even a good thing? Is my parenting style benefitting my child? Are his positive personality traits the result of my parenting or is it ingrained in his DNA?

I ask myself these questions constantly.

Do I have any control over the kind of adult my child will become?

How could you know? How could you possibly know?

Studies show this, studies show that. Studies provide a low level benchmark for what parents could or should be doing — but that’s a low-level, meaningless thrum of static. It’s white noise in the face of your responsibility to raise an actual living, breathing human being. Every child is different. No child is the same, therefore no strategy should be the same. Sure, there are basic needs that must be met, but outside of that, who fucking knows what’s right and wrong?

The correct strategies you are employing now may affect your child negatively in the future.

– Should I raise my child to be polite when we live in a world that rewards brash behaviour?
– If I raise an entitled child will he be less willing to take no for an answer in the future? Is this a good or a bad thing?
– Am I setting my child up for failure by teaching him resilience, or am I preparing him to endure tough times?

Again, who knows? How could you possibly know?

And what’s the end goal? What does success look like? How do you even define what success is?

Is it contentment? Is it happiness? Do you simply want your child to be a ‘good person’, to not be an asshole? Is financial or professional actualisation part of that?

The reality: parenthood is a tangled mess of variables you cannot hope to manipulate or control.

This shit is hard — way too hard – and you might as well accept that.

There are no easily defined KPIs for parenting. No simple definition of success or failure. At no point in your parenting journey can you feel certain you’re doing the right thing or instilling the correct values in your children.

I find that terrifying. It’s also mildly liberating.

No job, project or endeavour can compare to parenting in its complexity. You are dealing with a human brain. You are attempting to control the uncontrollable. The ruleset is constantly shifting and you stand in the chaos — like King Canute – trying to control the direction of the tides.

Good luck with that.

It’s a harsh reality, but one we must all face. Research is valuable. Personal experience is vital. But it’s impossible to call yourself a good parent when we have no idea how to accurately define what a good parent does. I might be a good parent. I might be a mediocre parent.

I might be raising a serial killer. I just. Don’t. Know.

I have no fucking idea what I’m doing and if you’re being completely honest with yourself, neither do you.


  • Not a clue here but my Son nailed his VCE and just finishing his first year at Uni doing Mechatronics Engineering…and you know what, by every measure and every written article known to man article he played (still plays) way too many computer games.

    It is all bullshit and the best parenting article I’ve read…well ever. You do what you think is right till you know you’re a dumbfuck and its wrong. Life has a habit of handing you the manual after you’ve worked out how it works…

  • As someone who is about to have their first child in six months and is a bit afraid of what to expect, your article re-affirmed that we’re all just winging it 🙂

  • As someone who is about to become a father any day now (any hour now, to be perfectly honest), I’d like to thank you for this insightful article.
    It sounds ironic, because you basically didn’t say anything useful at all in the article. But you’ve confirmed for me what I imagine parenting will be like; i.e. I have no fucking idea.
    It comforts me to know that when I end up in the same position as you in years time and I still have no idea what I’m doing, that I’m not the only one.

    • Thanks for the comment. This is what I hoped to communicate!

      Good luck! Parenthood is an awesome adventure.

  • I’m also joining the parenting club in April 2017… nearly every parent I talk to is an “expert” and full of advice that conflicts with the “expert” standing next to them. I work everything else out as I go along, why change now? Or do just what my wife says. Whichever’s easier 😛

      • Or as the great Iron Mike used to say, “Everyone has a plan, till they get punched in the mouth”, or in this instance, peed on by a newborn.

        • To be fair, Mike had low blood sugar when he made this comment. He actually just wanted to eat the children.

      • Are you also playing the COD4 remaster on veteran?? I’ve seen that quote too many times to count in the last few days.

  • I really didn’t find the article helpful. I had some ideas before I was a father and I still agree with most of them.

    I really think the author is over-analysing things. Set some boundaries (clear boundaries) and stick to them. Your kids will let you know their strengths and weaknesses and you respond accordingly.

    I also don’t understand why women deserve any more respect than anyone else (in this day and age). Why should anyone be given more respect based on their genitals? What a fucking stupid attitude (to use the author’s language). Do you think women are weak or stupid? Do you think sexism is a gendered thing? Are people really this shallow? Which leads me to my biggest failure as a parent.

    If I changed anything, its empathy. I encouraged a lot of empathy in my children. However, in an environment of political correctness where sexism and bullying and prejudice is the norm, I made a bad decision. I was recently with a group of teachers who kept on saying “oh, that’s a boy thing”, my kids were getting pissed off. I pointed out that one of these perpetrators was a girl, “yeah, but she’s behaving like a boy”. This sexism is so ingrained today, it’s unbelievable.

    Kids have their own mind. They know what they like. Without doing something extreme, you’re not going to change them. All you can do is help them find themselves, who they are. My kids are quite different in many ways. Do you know why they aren’t the same? Because that’s who they are!

    Relax. Don’t stress. You can’t control any relationship in your life. You can set boundaries with your kids (and the boundaries will change over time).

    If you want to do your kids a favour? Tell them how to think! Dump political correctness. Teach them how, not what to think! Help them find who they are. Being different is ok .. oh, and women aren’t weak, so stop with the political correct crap, please!!!

    • I don’t think women are weak or stupid. The precise opposite. I do think that women have a lot to deal with and that we need to to teach our young boys — more than ever given the cultural climate (Trump, Alt-right, MRA, rape culture) — to respect women. That’s the point I was trying to make.

      It’s funny. This article is actually about people like you. People who are so confident in themselves. People who feel the need to tell everyone how to parent. People who are supremely confident in the way they parent. That’s not necessarily an insult, I’m glad you’re so sure of yourself. But it’s condescending to assume that what works for you and your children will work for others.

      Thanks for reading.

      • what does Trump have to do with it? Culture is does not reflect political bullshit. Culture is a way of life. Please educate yourself

  • 10 weeks out from the arrival of our first and i find this re-assuring.

    Every time i think about what having a child will be like i start to worry a little.
    How do i take care of a little girl? Ive never changed a nappy! How do i help my wife when she is the primary carer for the first few months?! Goddamn!

    This is reassuring knowing that parent hood is a series moments that you need to make judgement calls, and they all cant be right. You just have to do your best and try and shape them into a good person.

    Will share this with my wife. Thanks.

  • Nearly 3 years in, and guess what. I did not have time nor energy to think about all those thoughts you described nor did I do half the stuff they teach you in those classes and books.
    From the day my son was born I was trying to adapt to his every move, mood and see how it goes from there. I am glad now I can say he now is a happy, very kind, helpful almost 3 year old. He obviously still has a lot to learn, like instead of sticking his face in front of peoples kids faces and screaming helloooooooo!!!!! and just say hello normally. You’re right, it’s all very unpredictable and that’s the beauty of it. They develop their own unique little personality. Who cares what other people might say or if they are correct politically or not. Just try to teach them the obvious things like being polite to people. The greatest thing that scares me is that he will either be bullied or even worse become one a few years down the track. But I will find that out in a few years when he goes to school. In the meantime, I am having a lot of fun seeing him grow up
    and doing things every day that surprise his mum and dad.

  • Your article is spot on. Nothing can prepare you for when you become a parent, it’s just something that you have to experience to understand. By the same token, no piece of advice will be perfectly valid for your individiual little creation, you just have to work on (educated) trial-and-error.

    To be honest, I do think that parents still need constructive advice and guidance, whether it is in the form of books/online articles/personal experience, but as long as this is both framed and taken as a starting point or single strategy to attempt. Far too often advice is given as a rule or a guarantee, where it should really be given as “give it a go, this worked for us”.

    I always tell new parents who are stressing out about the basics that people have survived for many thousands of years without a written language, let along books & internet guides. If it was really that hard to raise a child without guides etc, we’d all be extinct by now.

  • I’m 9 months in (not first child but first we got to take home) and my daughter has shown me the amazing side (feeding her for the first time by myself at sunrise while watching Star Wars), the funny side (learning to crawl and instantly chasing the cat!) and the heartbreaking/”I’m not sure I want to be a parent anymore” side (screaming the house down for at least 1 hour straight at 2am when my wife is already living on a few hours a week sleep).

    I still have days where I ask myself “I am really doing this? Am I really able to do this?” but like you said, admitting you have no freaking idea what you are doing is a good thing! I have to constantly remind myself of this because if I didn’t I think I would go slightly insane.

  • Excellent parenting advice. Brings to mind something I think “tiger parents” don’t understand until it’s too late:

    Your kids aren’t you and never will be you. No matter how hard you push them, they won’t ever be a better version of you, let alone any version of you. They will, with your love, guidance and support, be a better version of themselves. But not you.

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