Beer, Dr. Spock, And The Parenting Advice I Needed Most

When I gave birth to my first child in 1983 at age 24, I realized about thirty-six hours into this new adventure that babysitting as a young teen, assisting with a pack of deaf Boy Scouts in college, and nannying part-time for a few months when I was first married was not sufficient training for motherhood. Though I never consciously figured any of it was, I’d stayed away from parenting books during my pregnancy. After more than a year of trying to conceive, I was completely focused on being pregnant. I figured I’d get to the parenting info when I needed it. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear, right? I wasn’t ready.

Once we came home from the hospital with a tiny baby girl on a July day where the temps were only slightly cooler than the surface of the sun, I had the 24/7 reality of motherhood as a motivator. At 3 a.m. on that first sleep-deprived night home with a newborn, I was now ready to tackle motherhood.

I looked to my elders for some guidance. My mom relied on a tattered copy of that 1950’s parenting guru, Dr. Spock, to guide her, though she admitted she rarely followed his free-wheeling advice. My mother-in-law told me she didn’t remember much about babies. The single piece of advice she passed on to me was her old-school doctor’s recommendation to have a beer when she nursed her baby so she’d relax and produce more milk. Though Dr. Spock encouraged parents to trust their instincts, if I had a beer every time I nursed my daughter, my instincts would be pickled by the time she was six months old.

Instead, I enrolled myself in the new parent crash course, thanks to the local library and my local Kroch and Brentano’s bookstore. I can’t recall the titles of any of the books I read (after all, it was 30 years ago), but I do remember stashing bits of information from each volume in my mental file catalog. Of course, a fair measure of the the advice in some of the books dueled with advice in others. Co-sleep with your baby. No, put the baby in her crib and sleep train her. Breast feed until at least a year. No, wean the baby when he or she starts teething. So much advice, and it all sounded so darn reasonable in print.

I thought if I could just decipher the right combination of information, my babies would live happily ever after. Sounds pretty naive, doesn’t it? I’ve since learned that a lot of new parents bring their best problem-solving, code-breaking skills to the task of child-rearing. Information is important, don’t get me wrong. It’s helpful to have information about a newborn’s developmental stages and how to comfort a colicky baby and when to call the pediatrician at 3 a.m. But I think I overloaded on new mommy information – and that was before there were a gazillion mommy blogs and books and podcasts and Youtube diaper changing videos out there. I can not imagine what it is like for earnest new parents today.

Only a few weeks passed before I discovered that the thing that carried me through those first sleepless nights and everything else that followed wasn’t a good skill set or pithy parenting advice so full of certainty and promise of “success”. What carried me and taught me what I needed to know was love. My love for my three children. The Father’s love for me. Sounds so simplistic, doesn’t it? This mom love has undone me and remade me for the last three decades, and has carried me through some impossibly difficult challenges in recent years, challenges for which there are no parenting books with sure answers waiting for me to buy and devour at my local bookstore.

Not long ago, I was asked to share a brief, wise devotional thought at a dear friend’s baby shower. It was time to give some sage advice to my friend and a roomful of her friends. 30 years of parenthood and 10 years of grandparenthood, and the essence of what I tried to say was, “You know we’ve been through some really, really hard things in the family department in recent years. But I’d do it all, all over again. There is no joy greater than loving your child, and experiencing God’s love for you and that little one as you do in the trenches of each day. I will tell you my stories, and be honest with you about my failures. I will be there for you in whatever way you need and I’ll pray for you.”

When I think about it, this was the advice I needed most 30 years ago.

Veteran parents, what advice would you give to a new mom or dad? 

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  • Tim

    I tell them that parenting is an adventure. Other than that, I tell them that they’ll figure it out as they go along and that almost everything they are having trouble with will pass … and then they’ll have trouble with something else. And I tell them there is nothign like being a mom or a dad. It’s amazing and it’s awesome.

    That may not be too helpful on the specifics, but it’s what I’ve got after a couple decades of being a parent.


    • Michelle Van Loon

      “This, too, shall pass…” It can be hard to believe when those early years are so exhausting and intense, but it’s so true. 🙂

  • After 30 years of parenting, a few too many parenting book that usually made me feel more inadequate than empowered, and surviving the “black hole” years of adolescence three times, I have two pieces of advice. 1) Love them just as they are and 2) pray for the Lord to work them into the people he created them to be. In my experience He does a marvelous job in spite if my futile attempts to be the perfect parent.

  • Y. A. Warren

    Tell us about your husband and your parenting support system that manifest “His” love with hands, hearts, and other physical support.

    • Michelle Van Loon

      I’m grateful for a patient and faithful husband. We’ll be celebrating our 35th anniversary this year. We navigated parenting together, but as a young, stay-at-home parent, I needed nuts-and-bolts mothering info. Or, at least I thought I did.

      As far as support goes, a few other young families from church were support, particularly in times of crisis like a hospital stay for me. They came along later, when our three children (born in the span of 36 months) were a little older. When our first child was a baby, we were one of the only couples in the church we attended at the time to have a child, and no neighbors or friends had kids, either. Those early days were pretty overwhelming as a result. Lots of questions and no one to ask.

      • Y. A. Warren

        I often wish the Bible had been organized by women. There would certainly be more emphasis on how the family of Jesus lived and less on only the big, bold events.

  • B.J.D

    As a father of five some of the lessons I have learned. You have to reach deep within the patience well and always have plenty on hand. Your day is never done until your head hits the pillow and many times not even then. Make the punishment fit the offense, kids know when you are being unfair and consistency is the key to effective discipline. One spank is for the offense any more is to let out your frustrations, so stop at one but corporal punishment if used consistently can be a great correctional tool. You cannot give your kids too much love and affection. Every child needs one on one time with each parent. This could be something fun and exciting like going to the museum or it could be something more mundane like groceries or a swim at the YMCA. Let kids be kids! Running around and making noise isn’t a sign they need medication. Don’t let their natural and sometimes infinite reserve of energy be an annoyance to you.

    Above all, take every opportunity to be reminded of the Lord’s grace in allowing you the gift of parenthood.

    • Michelle Van Loon

      Thank you for sharing these insights, BJD. Agree with each one – most especially in remembering the gift of grace in allowing me the gift of parenthood.