This week’s advice: Don’t read this column

March 27, 2013

Lean in. No, lean out.

There’s nothing more important than having family dinners together. Family dinners are overrated.

The normally frenzied volume of advice on work and family balance seems to have reached, in the past few weeks, levels that threaten our sanity.

First, there was Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg seeming to suggest in her new book that women can have it all, if only they work the system just right. While many people are deriding her strategy, it’s hard not to imagine women in offices all over the country trying some of her tactics. (Are more women having frank discussions with their spouses about ways to more evenly divide home-and-hearth duties? If so, that’s a good thing.)

Then there was Erin Callan’s rebuttal in the New York Times; the former Lehman Brothers chief financial officer described the effects that career success in a male-dominated world can have on personal happiness. The problem, Callan says, is that she never actively decided to work seven days a week, it just happened: “First, I spent a half-hour on Sunday organizing my e-mail, to-do list and calendar to make Monday morning easier. Then I was working a few hours on Sunday, then all day.” Callan’s point is that you don’t realize the consequences of leaning in until you’ve tipped over.

Surely, if there’s one bit of parenting advice we can all agree on, it’s the importance of the family dinner, right?

We’ve read the studies about family dinners. Kids who regularly eat with their parents get better grades, are less likely to do drugs and more likely to eat healthful meals.

Not so fast, says author Bruce Feiler, whose new book is “The Secrets of Happy Families.” Feiler opines that the family dinner doesn’t work for many families, and so we simply shouldn’t feel like parental failures if every meal is not a shared “Leave It to Beaver” experience.

Well, this is a parenting advice column, so it’s time for me to weigh in.

Stop reading parenting advice books, stories and yes, even columns.

THAT INCLUDES THIS ONE.

For those of you who have stopped reading, I salute you . . . even though you don’t know it.

But I suspect a good number of you are still with me, because parenting advice is a bit like eBay, potato chips and reality TV. Once you start, it’s hard to stop.

So let’s add this to the cacophony of parenting news out there in recent weeks.

According to a major new report by the Pew Research Center, parents spend more time with their children today than parents in the mid-1960s did — and yet we worry about how well we’re doing that job far more than our parents ever did.

We should worry less and trust ourselves more. The best parenting advice I ever received was from my family’s pediatrician, who told me, “Never let any professional tell you something about your child that you know isn’t true. Nobody knows your child as well as you do.”

So, since you’re still reading this, I feel obliged to offer up some parenting advice. To wit: Spring is about to burst upon Washington with the amazing profusion of color that somehow manages to surprise us and take our breath away every year. Instead of figuring out how to be a better parent by reading either Feiler or Sandberg — both books are fascinating in their own ways — just do it.

Dust the cobwebs off the bikes and go for a squeal-inducing ride. (Be daring and show your kids you can ride with no hands.) Stand in the back yard and see how many different bird calls you can make out. Dance in the snowstorm created by wind blowing the blossoms off a Bradford pear tree.

I could go on, but by now I really hope you’re no longer reading.

And besides, it’s time for me to stop giving advice and start taking some of my own.

Grant is the editor of KidsPost.

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