Your Child’s Expert

Your Child's Expert
I’m taking a little hiatus from blogging this summer while I work on some major writing projects. I’m still checking in in the comments section, but I thought I’d rerun some columns from a few years ago, before this blog got big, that you likely never read. Here’s one I’m quite passionate about that I wrote quite a few summers ago.

I spent a week this summer reminding myself why I hated being a teenager. I was working as office manager at a camp while my kids were campers. They could see me at mealtimes so they didn’t get too homesick, but on the whole they were on their own. In the meantime, I listened to counselors fretting about boyfriends or girlfriends, about conflicts between friends, and about who is in what clique.

That’s not all I heard. Just like me, a nurse also came up to work while her three kids attended camp, including one very shy 8-year-old boy. She was supposed to be working at his camp, but was sent instead to the teenage one on the other side of the lake. Her son didn’t fare very well in her absence. The 19-year-old section head and 18-year-old counselor were sure they knew why. “In our experience,” they said, “these kids do much better if the parents are completely offsite.”

Now these teenagers were lovely people and experienced campers, having spent eight weeks at camp for each of the last three years. But that mom was an expert, too. She could have said, “I know you’ve spent 168 days at camp, but I have 3,000 days of experience with this particular boy, and he would have been fine had I worked here.” It was not to be. She took their criticism lying down.

This incident stayed with me, I think, because it’s not an anomaly. Everywhere we turn, someone else is telling us how to raise our kids (including me!). Even the spanking debate which I sparked a while ago (why do I do these things?) is symptomatic of this need for others to tell us, despite divided research data, how to parent our children.

One of my friends recently had an unfortunate run-in with a teacher, who was upset that this mom helped her fourth grade daughter to understand math. “She has to learn it the way we teach it, not the way you explain it,” the teacher stressed, failing to see the irony that if the teacher had actually taught the child, she wouldn’t have needed her mother’s help in the first place. The mother said little. I think a simple, “my child, my house, my time,” would have sufficed, followed by, in a Shrek accent, “bye-bye. See you later.” But my friend was more polite.

Instead of feeling upset when someone criticizes what we do with our kids, we tend to feel intimidated. When Rebecca took swimming lessons at the age of 4, the swimming instructor dunked her. I knew this wouldn’t work, but I didn’t speak up, and to this day I wonder why I was so cowed by a 17-year-old. It took me two years to undo the damage, during which my daughter would scream if I mentioned lessons. I took her swimming for fun, and she slowly began to like the water again. She swims like a fish now! (update: nine years after writing this column, Rebecca is a lifeguard who teaches swimming. And she never forces kids underwater). Yet she wasn’t like most kids when it comes to learning to swim. She’s easily spooked, and I should have stepped in earlier.

We live in an expert-driven society. No longer does common sense or life experience qualify you for anything. Yet though experts may know general knowledge, such as what happens with most children, you are the only one who knows the specifics, or what happens with your child.

I say this knowing what it is like to be on the other side. Doctors often deal with parents who refuse to believe that nothing is wrong with their child. We could all benefit from two or three honest and wise friends who could act as our personal “reality checks”, telling us when we, or our kids, are out of line. But I still can’t help feeling that erring on the side of too much involvement is better than erring on the side of too little. Studies show consistently that kids need involved parents. Good teachers and principals know this and welcome it; insecure ones don’t.

Maybe you don’t have much education. Maybe you haven’t read all the parenting books, and maybe you’ve even made mistakes. But your child will likely never have a better advocate than you. Next time somebody starts telling me that I should leave my children alone or butt out, I will leave. But my children come with me. Bye bye. See you later.


  1. Dead on. Fathers and mothers know best. This article is probably more true today than it was when you originally wrote it. The creep into families lives is speeding up and not slowing down.

  2. Preach it girl. I had to learn this lesson early on. My oldest was shy as a baby and when we went to big family gatherings he was always very timid at first and needed to be held by me or his daddy for a little while. Then he’d warm up and be totally fine, little social butterfly. But my mom would get in his face and try to tell me what to do to distract him from feeling the way he felt. Finally one day I stood up to her. I may have been a little harsh but I just sternly said “Mom, he is MY child. Leave him alone. You are freaking him out.” And that was that.

    And I’ve seen the other side of it too. I worked in a school and good grief did we have some parents in denial! Their little angels would NEVER do such awful things and how dare the big bad school punish them! Ugh.

    I’ve seen other parents helping each other out too though. I used to babysit at my exercise class twice a week. There was one little toddler girl who FREAKED when her mom left. And her poor mom – first time mommy – took it really hard. She would be very worried, have to have her spot in class by the window into the childcare room so her little girl could see her, would come back into the room at the end of every routine, ended up missing half the class every time. Some of the other moms she would talk to gently but firmly told her she needed to stop doing that because she was making it worse. She heeded their advice. It took a few days and was harder on the mom than it was on the child, but within a week the little girl was happily running into the childcare room to play without a single whimper. We parents can – and need to! – support each other. We’re all flying by the seat of our pants in this thing. :-)
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  3. Preach it, Sheila 😀 And multiply it by ten if you have a child with a disability or behavior issues (like ADHD). I used to have to preach it to myself before every encounter with the “specialists”, to bolster my confidence.

    I think of the analogy of building a house. God gave ME and my husband these children to raise. We’re the general contractor. There are times we need to hire sub-contractors to handle various specialties – for my Hard of Hearing son we needed audiologists, ENTs, aural habilitation therapists, etc. We’ve had teachers, principals, coaches, etc. But none of them know our kids like we do. And none of them are accountable before God like we are. My husband and I see (or we TRY to see!) the big picture of who God made this child to be. We “hire” those specialists like a general contractor hires plumbers and electricians. But those experts serve US. We don’t stand over them and nitpick how they do their jobs, as long as they’re working toward the same goal, but if they’ve got a different agenda? Then they either need a course-correction, or they get replaced. We’re in charge of the project, not them.

    And I know that can sound harsh and ungrateful – not my mindset! We appreciate people who have come into our lives and our kids’ lives and helped us see things and achieve things we wouldn’t have managed well on our own. We’re not belligerent and proud. But believe me, I’ve had my share of run-ins with “experts” who think they know more about my kids than I do. Ugh.

    Take heart and stand firm for your kids 😀

    Julie recently posted…All That and a Bag of ChipsMy Profile

  4. Abby Jensen says:

    I definitely agree with this, but I think there is a fair amount of parents who have no idea how their child really acts or are really in denial.

  5. Completely agree that no one knows my kids like I do. And no one can be a better advocate for my child than me as the parent. But we shouldn’t allow that to make us stubborn. Or allow it to mean that only *we* can be our child’s teacher/advocate/mentor. Your example about camp is a case in point. I’ve found, being a pre-school/daycare director that most children (not all) listen better and try new things more easily when they are being directed/taught by someone other than a parent. And its good for them, too, to be exposed to different adults and teaching styles and personalities. My own children were with me at my daycare and I saw the different ways they acted and responded when I was around and when they didn’t know I was there. And the same held true for the myriad of families and children that came through my daycare doors. I think too many parents like the fact that their kids cry for five minutes while they are saying goodbye over and over again. Because, we all know, that more often than not, children are fine as soon as their parents walk out. They come back and are told, “Little Johnny was fine as soon as you left.” We need to be that safe place for our children to fall but too often our actions actually make us more of a crutch and an impediment to their full development.

    I’m also not a huge fan of saying, “My daughter is “shy” or whatever character trait. Like all human beings, our children will rise (or fall) to meet the expectations we have for them. We are all different and all take varying degrees of exposure to warm up to different people and experiences but when we go around using labels like that, we create an environment in which our children accept the label rather than figuring out for themselves all that they are capable of.

    Yes, be your child’s best advocate but do it in a way that allows them to fly and learn and experience trial and error and think outside the box. I don’t believe that that happens when we allow them to hide behind our skirts when they feel the slightest bit of discomfort.
    Alecia recently posted…I Need Boundaries Too!My Profile

  6. I have gone through periods where I’ve doubted myself as a mother. Then a funny thing happened, I opened my Bible and a passage came through that stated that God trusted me to have these children and he blessed ME to be their parents. He will give me the skills and knowledge to do it if I trust and believe in him. I’m still a long way from being a perfect parent. However, I am trying my best!
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  7. I agree!! We actually stopped going to a nearby children’s dentist because their office was very tight-lipped on what procedures actually entailed. My then four-year-old daughter needed a cavity filled, and when I asked about how they go about doing that on a young child, I was told that it was better for me not to talk to her about it. When I asked why, I was informed that they prefer to talk to the child so the parent doesn’t impart their fears of the dentist. Hmm. I know my kid, and knew that she did better when she had a general idea of the situation she was entering. When we went for that appointment, they were also quite displeased that I wanted to sit in the room while she was having the cavity filled. I went to the room anyway, where I sat quietly, reading a magazine, and just giving an encouraging smile when needed. My girl did great! We didn’t return after that, though, as I really don’t see how a dentist can honestly tell me they know my child better than I do!

    • Oh, Kari, that would drive me bananas! We had almost the exact same situation with an orthodontist. I quickly switched orthodontists.

  8. Awesome!

    And that is why I homeschool my children!

  9. Amen!
    Dawn @ My Home Sweet Home recently posted…3-Day Jewelry FLASH Sale at Blessings Unlimited!My Profile

  10. Another example of dead-on truth and excellent writing too! Thanks for your constant insight, Sheila. I’ve been subscribed via email for several months and your posts never cease to encourage and challenge me, all in great ways. I’m unsubscribing now, but not because this blog has ceased to be helpful! I’m simplifying my life and have found that keeping up with your daily posts is too exhausting. But I’ll keep checking in as often as I can; God has truly gifted you with insight in the areas of sex, marriage, and child-rearing. I’m so thankful that you have the willing heart to share!
    SL recently posted…How Often Should We Have Sex?My Profile

  11. Hippie4ever says:

    I love this article!

    Incidently, to those parents who feel we are the best advocates for our children, would you mind checking out this potential treaty with the UN:{C49108C5-0630-467E-9B9B-B1FA31A72320}/uploads/{D55811D1-F884-44EE-892C-793B36FBA5D9}.PDF – which would usurp those rights : And urge/demand that Congress preserve the right of parents to parent.

  12. LOVE THIS! So glad you pulled it out again to share! My sister and I always talk parenting, but I always try to end the conversation with “well, that’s what I would maybe try–but YOU know your kiddos best!”
    Jamie (@va_grown) recently posted…New Neighbors in the FarmyardMy Profile

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