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Fighting the urge to coach nervous rookie parents

Carolyn Hax
| Tuesday, February 12, 2019 1:30 a.m
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Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

My husband and I got married and had kids relatively young, especially for his family’s standards. Our kids are now in middle- and high school and doing well.

His sister is only two years younger than he is but has a 6-month-old baby who is absolutely adorable. However, I find myself being that annoying other parent. It’s hard because the parents are both highly educated, in their 30s, and they are just overthinking every single thing, and reading every parenting book known to man, and taking them all extremely seriously. It’s a little hard to swallow.

My husband is much better than I am at just nodding and smiling, and I find myself struggling not to give unsolicited advice and tell them to calm down. Any tips for me? We are spending this week with them on vacation and I really don’t want to be that parent, or that in-law.

— I Am That Parent

Good! That’s a great and important impulse.

If you have to walk away or abruptly change the subject or break into song to keep yourself from commenting, then so be it. It’ll be worth it.

The only tip I have to offer is to equate your impulse — to intervene toward the cause of relaxed child-rearing — with their impulse to read everything toward the cause of responsible childrearing. Either way, it’s a matter of dog and bone: Each of you is just a different dog with a different bone.

Thinking of it this way might help you feel more viscerally how invested they are in doing things their way, and therefore how futile it ultimately is to try to swing them your way.

And remember that you were new at this once, too, even if you were too young to be as self-aware about it as they are, as you seem to imply. Maybe you got the hang of it quickly — or, maybe the veteran parents around you were generous enough to stay mum while you figured things out.

Either way, having been a new parent yourself, you probably can remember how demoralizing it is to work so hard at something only to get negative or, worse, patronizing feedback from people whose only advantage was to have gotten there first. So, you really want them to relax? Tell them they’re doing great.

To: I’m That Parent:

One thing you can do on the vacation is demonstrate with your actions your lower-key approach to parenting. One of the joys of vacationing with family is giving each other an occasional break. Your in-laws may appreciate a break from Baby Everything and enjoy a board game or a round of body surfing with your older kids, and you can pitch in on the infant cuddling/feeding/diaper changing and general Baby Entertaining. As long as you respect their choices and keep your dukes down, they are likely to appreciate no-judgment, loving help.

— Anonymous

Yes, thanks — with emphasis on “respect their choices.” Helping out to give them a break is lovely; helping out to show the rookies how it’s done is … sub-lovely. Adapting to their methods is key.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook or chat with her online at noon each Friday at washingtonpost.com.

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