America loves its reality TV. This phenomenon is something I’ve never quite understood though I’ve lived in the States my entire life. Since becoming a parent my TV watching has dropped dramatically, so the fact that I’ve even heard of the popular singing show The Voice is something of an anomaly, but I think its premise makes an interesting case for parents to consider.
For those who haven’t tuned in, The Voice is a television show that has contestants come up on stage and sing a song in front of four judges. The catch is that all of the judges have their backs turned to the singer and can only be influenced by what they hear, not what they see. If a judge believes the singer is talented enough to want to take them on as a protégé, they hit a button that turns their chair around. If multiple judges pick the same person, the judges try to convince the contestant why they should take them on as a coach in order to improve their singing and possibly win the contest.
When you become a parent for the first time you are struck by three things:
- How much you don’t know and need to learn quickly
- The art of second-guessing oneself
- How afraid you are of making mistakes
The practical measures that you need to figure out become apparent quickly: how to diaper and dress the baby, feed the baby, how to soothe the baby, and possibly the most important, how to get him or her to sleep.
You then start to figure out that you’ll have to try and take care of yourself as well and have to figure out when you’ll find time to shower, sleep, not to mention keep yourself sane.
You become a quick study in the art of second-guessing.
Should I swaddle or not? Does that comfort the baby or will they resent me for it later?
Should I breastfeed, bottle-feed or both? If I’m unable or don’t want to breastfeed will I be negatively judged by others?
Do I put my baby in an activity class? Am I limiting their capacity to learn later if I don’t?
The list of questions we ask ourselves is almost limitless.
Then, just as we start to get comfortable and think hey, maybe I can do this we get hit by a line of questioning from well-meaning friends and family members that goes something like:
“Are you going to do that?”
“That’s not how I did it” or “That’s not how I would do it”
They almost can’t help themselves. They don’t want to see you make the same mistakes they did. They want to share their insights, or should I say strong suggestions, so that you won’t struggle the way they did.
But what message do these questions send? They reinforce our temptation to second-guess our every move. If the ones who love us most are second-guessing our decisions , then they must be onto something, right?
There are many books that provide culturally specific ways for people to parent that have generated quite a bit of controversy, including the recent tomes Tiger Mom and Bringing Up Bebe Undoubtedly both books have some helpful ideas that one might want to incorporate into their own parenting journey but I suspect they also feed that nagging internal voice that says are you going to parent like that? The French/ Chinese/ Whomever are really doing a much better job.
We always fear that despite our best efforts, we still aren’t going to get things right. We fear we won’t be good enough for our friends, for our spouse or partner, for our children, but most importantly for ourselves. We set an unattainable measuring stick in an attempt to get parenting ‘right’.
I’d argue that the fear and doubt associated with parenting aren’t specifically American experiences but human experiences that know no cultural boundaries.
What all parents need is to be supported, not judged or made to feel like they are under constant scrutiny.
What if we took a cue from The Voice and instead of getting distracted by all the surface qualities of what our parenting journey looks like, we just listened for that one clear note of truth to guide us?