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Parenting Advice From Non-Parents

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During my first three years of parenting, I clung to my friends who were also parents. To them, I would direct all of my questions about sleeping, breast-feeding, and coping in general with small children. Their love and support and experience were invaluable to me as I assembled my tribe.

Other parents told me what worked for them and why they did what they did. With the good nature of fellow soldiers in a foxhole, they generously explained why they did or did not use the “cry it out method,” or why they chose to breast-feed after their child’s first birthday, or why they opted for day care over a nanny.

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As for my friends without children ... well, I pretty much ignored them. I certainly wasn’t going to ask someone who had never breast-fed what was wrong with my baby’s latch. And how could I ask someone who had never given birth when, or if, my body would ever return to its former shape and size? I kept my inner circle, my "Board of Directors," if you will, confined to those who had parented because I couldn’t imagine what a non-parent could offer me.

I didn’t know then that a non-parent might be the very best resource for someone like me—a frazzled mom who needed objective advice about a million different facets of motherhood. The reason why a non-parent is ideal is precisely because she isn’t bogged down with her own agenda about parenting.

Her feedback to me wasn’t laden with her own guilt, shame, regret or pride about the issue.

I realized the folly of my “parents only” policy one night as I sobbed about breast-feeding to a friend who has chosen not to have children. “What should I do?” I asked her when my breast swelled, and my son cried for more milk. Had I asked a fellow mother, I would have had to sift through her experience with breast-feeding or her feelings about my extending nursing of my 2-year-old son. To be sure, all people—parents and non-parents alike—have feelings, agendas and unconscious desire and motives, but I realized that my friend could answer my question without being clouded and prejudiced by her own experience. She’d never had the occasion to breast-feed, so her feedback to me wasn’t laden with her own guilt, shame, regret or pride about the issue. And her answer was simple and direct: “Why don’t you call the doctor and see what she says?”

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Then, another friend gave me a beautiful book for my son’s first birthday. The book conveyed the perfect message about the unconditional love I wanted to give my son. “How did you know this would be the perfect book?” I asked her. “Even though I don’t have kids, I know what it’s like to want to give someone unconditional love,” she answered. Right then and there, I put her on my "Board of Directors" and stopped defining the people who could help me so narrowly.

The path of wisdom and support is wide, and there’s no reason it has to be populated only with those who have chosen to be parents. In fact, my life is richer today for listening to more voices as I make my way through the parenting maze.

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