April 14, 2017

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The Only Parenting Advice You Need

“There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that's your own self.”

Aldous Huxley


In the beginning there were books and articles and oh-so-many blogs. All keepers of my sanity as I sought to figure out how to get this parenting thing right. There are currently 200,000 book on “Parenting” on Amazon, half a million results on Google for “parenting advice” and probably another million conversations about parenting happening on- and offline right now. We are all obviously looking for something, a magic bullet to make this significant life role more manageable. 5.5 years and 2 more kids later, I learned, like most parents eventually do, that my sanity actually depended not on reading more parenting wisdom, but on tuning most of it out. In the end, I found much of that noise could be summarized into just one piece of advice, one I now turn to when I’m in a parenting pickle, my parenting Om, so to speak...more on that in a minute.

My first real parenting crisis came early, when I had trouble breastfeeding my first child and we subsequently realized she wasn’t gaining enough weight. The unsympathetic, unknowledgable pediatrician I initially went to put me on an insane regimen (he would also honk two imaginary breasts in the air every time he said the word “pump”, which should have been a clue to his incompetence). He told me to breastfeed for an hour, pump right after the feed, then give the pumped milk to the baby by bottle, by which point it was time for her next breastfeed. This meant I was spending roughly 23.5 hours a day feeding. My lack of rest only reduced my milk production further. I was a hysterical, hormonal, exhausted mess, sobbing about the poor job I was doing nourishing my baby, but fighting to continue with breast milk. My parents tried to convince me that the pressure I was putting on myself was harming everyone, and was not going to make me a better parent. I asked them (not so politely) to stay out of my decisions.


Of course, they were right, and if I had followed the advice I now keep as my mantra, I would have seen the error of my choice. The thousands of parenting decisions I’ve had to make since then have all come down to one easy-to-remember rule for me - be the person you hope your children to be. Did I want my daughter to one day berate herself for a bodily function she couldn’t control? (I’m sure that is conjuring other images, but I’m talking about breastfeeding here). Or, did I want her to be gentle with herself, aware that she is a human being, trying her best, but not in control of every outcome?


“How would I want [insert kid’s name] to react in this situation?” has become my parenting Magic 8 ball.  It is not so different from Gandhi’s famous quote “Be the change you wish to see in the world” or The Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have done unto you) - it is The Golden Rule for Parents (GRP) - do unto your kids as you would have them do unto the world. So I try and remember: treat people well, treat yourself well, and don’t forget….the Kids are always watching. [Children can definitely be as creepy as this sounds, as evidenced by the remark “I will keep you forever, even when you’re dead” made to me by my 3 year old].


Following the Golden Rule for Parents has lead to many positive changes in my habits, my health, my relationships, to others and myself, and I believe, helped make my household and kids happier. No matter how much I talk about the best way to be to them, nothing will impact my children more than seeing that behavior modeled in their house, every day by the people with whom they are the closest. I stopped feeling guilty about needing time away from my family, because when they are adults, I want them to know it is okay to take a break without guilt. Following this rule has lead me to apologize faster, listen longer, walk slower and express more gratitude. It has reminded me to put my phone down, take a breath before talking to them, and to step away when I’m feeling too frazzled to be calm. I’ve also reached the conclusion that the problems that can’t be solved by The Golden Rule for Parents are probably not worth obsessing over [this does not mean I do not obsess over them, just that I know better].


Let’s put the GRP to the test in some common situations:

  1. Your child throws a pointy-tipped Magnatile at her younger brother’s head, missing his frontal lobe by a millimeter. You want to yell “WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING, YOU ALMOST KILLED HIM!”, but instead you remember the GRP which reminds you that you want your children to grow up to be calm and unflappable and so you take a deep breath and go with a more understated “You cannot throw things at your brother, you could hurt him”.
  2. Your child never sleeps, meaning you never sleep. You have googled every single option out there to get him to sleep through the night but nothing has worked except co-sleeping which half the world is telling you not to do. You are at a crossroads but you realize that you want to teach your children to trust their instincts so you decide to trust yours, as per the GRP.  
  3. You are trying to decide if you should take the kids for an amazing exotic vacation. It will be great fun, but also difficult to manage and exhausting as the kids are still small. In this example, the GRP can help you parse through your values. For some, raising adventurous children who see few obstacles is most important, for others, teaching patience and the importance of finding excitement in every-day life will be more important. Each might lead to a different decision.
  4. Your daughter is sick but you have an important work deadline. Grandma, whom she adores, is able to be with her but you think she needs you. Do you stay at home? Go to work? Work from home? GRP suggests you think “What advice would I give my daughter?” In my case it would be, “make a clear-headed decision, one not driven by guilt.”

At the end of the day, anyone seeking parenting advice is probably already a pretty good parent. Most of us are just seeking some confidence in the choices we are making. We want to know we aren’t messing this up so we look for external validation. Most likely, those answer are already in us because no parenting guru knows your kid better than you do. On a daily basis, remembering the Golden Rule for Parenting is the roadmap I need not just for being a better mother, but also the basis for how I want to live my life and the changes I need to make in myself. Looking inwards, I’ve realized, is perhaps the most important thing I can do for my children. It also means less focus on the specifics of how my kids turn out, and more focus on the journey of how we become who we are meant to be. How compassion for oneself can be the basis for compassion for others. How we can all stop googling “How do I get my child to [fill in the blank]"and just get busy being and modeling [fill in the blank] ourselves.    

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Samar Shaheryar
Samar Shaheryar

Author

Samar Shaheryar is the co-founder of Baby Hero and has worked on global issues affecting women and children for 15 years. She is a mother to three spunky, multi-cultural kids and currently lives in Hong Kong.



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