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When Do Parents Really Need Parenting Advice?

By Rebeldad Brian Reid

I was talking to someone about the blog recently, and she asked about the kind of parents we tended to attract. She assumed that we were relatively focused on young parents (or – at the least – parents with younger kids). She had a high schooler and said she was way beyond keeping up with parenting news.

Obviously, we talk about the range of issues here, from college planning to nursing in public. But there is a trend toward talking about tykes before we talk about tweens. Part of that reflects an unavoidable bias on my part: I don’t have to worry about the teenage years until well after the next presidential election. But part of that reflects the fact that as we get more years of parenting under our belts, reading parenting tips seems like more and more of a waste of time.

Early on, two magazines -- Parents and Child – began arriving (mysteriously, as I never subscribed) at my house. And I would typically read them cover to cover, in 2- or 3-minute intervals, every month, trying to absorb the best of being strict without being stern and of making sure that were up on the meaning of green snot versus straw-colored snot and when to worry about a standard-issue tummyache.

But at some point – not long after my eldest turned two – I stopped reading the magazines, and at some point they simply stopped arriving. I never missed them. It wasn’t that parenting suddenly became simple at that point. To the contrary, the issues only expanded once I had a walking, talking, reasoning, social kid. But I didn’t feel the need to devour Parenting magazine to get my answers.

Sometimes, we’d go for the usual coffee-house advice-swapping with other parents, but more often than not, we ended up feeling our way through the changes du jour by trial and error and through quick conversations with the pediatrician at the annual well-child visit.
Ironically, though, as I see the teenage years coming, I am beginning to worry that I’ll again need a parenting Sherpa to guide me through those wild adolescent years. (I didn’t have a very wild adolescence, so experience won’t be a great guide.) But I figure that I’ll outgrow that, too, and pretty much parent by the seat of my pants until both kids are off to college.

Obviously, readers of this blog have at least some interest in getting perspective on parenting, but are there times in your parenting career where advice was more useful (or hardly useful at all)?

Brian Reid writes about parenting and work-family balance. You can read his blog at

By Brian Reid |  November 13, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Child Development
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I have rarely sought personal advice.

Posted by: jezebel3 | November 13, 2008 7:22 AM | Report abuse

Yes, this is something of a conundrum! As someone who is an advice-giver to parents of teenagers, I can say with some authority that parents of teenagers are much, much less likely to see out support and expertise than parents of younger kids.

Which is not to say that they don't find it helpful when they do seek in out - quite the contrary. Indeed, when parents finally do come to me because of a crisis, they often say they wish they had come sooner, or wish they had come for their older child(ren). Therapists and family educators still have much to offer parents of teenagers. I only wish they would seek us out more regularly!

(I'm an educator, BTW, about adolescent sexuality.

Posted by: karenrayne | November 13, 2008 8:25 AM | Report abuse

jezebel - it shows!

Seriously, we've always looked for advice on specific issues when we thought we needed it. The amount of things we took advice on didn't change as the kids got older; just the topics. When they were younger it was health issues; schools; etc. As the kids got older, we sought advice on teen drinking/drugs/sex; and on college applications, the FAFSA process, etc.

Side topic: the magazine subscriptions were probably provided compliments of a hospital/day care provider/some other service provider you used. The hospital DS was born in gave us two-year subscriptions to Parenting and a couple of other magazines; one day care center subscribed us to "Working Mother", and there were a few others. For the most part, they went straight to recycling.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | November 13, 2008 8:39 AM | Report abuse

i think that as my son got older i still sought out advice but i used friends or the parent's of his friends since they know my son rather than a book. books are still useful especially if there is a specific issue.

i loved those magazines when son was an infant/toddler.

Posted by: quark2 | November 13, 2008 9:14 AM | Report abuse

I read about and ask for parenting advice when I have the time or a serious problem has arisen. Otherwise, I stick with Dr. Spock - "You know more than you think you do."

Posted by: cqjudge | November 13, 2008 9:58 AM | Report abuse

For me, it's not about the age of the kid; it's about my experience and the kids' personality. First kid = a lot of "your new baby"-type books for basic info -- what to expect, what was normal, what to worry about, etc. Second kid = not so much (except for things like potty training, which is, umm, slightly different for boys).

But the other factor is that my daughter (oldest) is a lot more demanding than my son. When you have a kid who's on the skinny part of the "normal" bell curve, you spend a lot of time figuring out how to meet that kid's needs -- especially when it's your first kid, and you don't know if it's you, her, "normal," a problem, etc. So I read a lot of books over her first few years while I was figuring out her personality/needs, and I still go back fairly regularly as she reaches different stages with different demands (like our most recent excursion into sibling rivalry). The boy, well, so far he's been about as easy, happy, and uncomplicated as a kid can be (knock on wood). So even today, I do way more advice-seeking for my 7-yr-old than my 3-yr-old.

Posted by: laura33 | November 13, 2008 10:46 AM | Report abuse

I think one of the reasons we don't talk as much about teens is because if you're going through it, you sometimes don't have the stomach to relate it to others (except maybe very close friends). I tend to read for advice, and then discuss with either my three best friends for the deep stuff, or possibly my neighborhood friends for the lighter stuff. I like talking to teachers, psychologists, and so on about children, because they really KNOW.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | November 13, 2008 11:00 AM | Report abuse

Ms Weasel would ocasionally read me a few paragraphs out of American Baby or Parenting Magazine and it only confirmed what I already suspected. The articles were primarily written from a women centric, elitist perspective that did little more than promote the sales of its advertisers. Logical, if you ask me, for the marketers of these tabloids to target the wealthier demographic who make the purchasing decisions for baby products.

As far as parenting blogs go, I'm in it for the entertainment value and virtual socialization, though there's not much going on conversationwise here anymore. (What happened?) I've actually learned a lot here about parents and a little about kids, so when I go to a party, I'm surprisingly up to date (for a guy anyway) on all the latest parenting issues. Helps, especially for a guy like me that has a huge tendency to get stuck with the women at coed social events. (not that I'm complaining)

Anyway, I've made a lot of great, trustworthy friends through the blogs, and perhaps a few enemies. Oh well, can't be liked by everybody.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | November 13, 2008 12:45 PM | Report abuse

I have a 22 month old, and I still read the few free mags occasionally, mostly for recipes and easy activities for rainy days. Since we don't have trouble with food and she's been sleep trained (thanks, Baby Whisperer), I haven't had much use for books. We're starting to potty train, though, so I need to hit the library to find a book that teaches with our parenting style in mind. We ask my SIL and our daycare providers a lot of questions, though. Among them, they've seen pretty much every personality type and have really good tips for handling most anything.

Wacky- You couldn't be more right about those free mags by the way. I'm a horrible target, but you know MANY are sucked into buying stuff.

Posted by: atb2 | November 13, 2008 12:56 PM | Report abuse

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