I have been writing about parenting as long as I have been a parent, and have been a professional parenting writer most of those nine years as well. I have been a parenting editor at one of the most-viewed women's lifestyle sites online, have been quoted as a parenting expert in national magazines, interviewed for that same expertise on national and local television and radio, and have contributed to many parenting websites on babyhood, big kid, single parenting, and now tween issues.
But something has always felt itchy to me about seeing the comma followed by "parenting expert" next to my name. It's because all of these tips and advice and interviews and anecdotes come from very limited experience. I have one child.
Not everything I have written has come solely from the nine years of mothering one son. I've done my journalistic due diligence in interviewing pediatricians, psychologists, financial professionals, firefighters, coaches, teachers, safety techs, and many, many other parents. I've read. A lot. I've scoured journal articles, read up on child development, dug as deep as I can on deadline.
Still, hearing myself called a parenting expert is like a sweater that's been through the dryer. Sometimes it is a cozy reminder of all that I've done, all the places I've been, all the hard work and late nights and emotion that goes into writing about everything from adoption to recalls. And sometimes I squirm inside it.
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My best parenting, I've learned in this near-decade, comes from informed instinct. I read, I ask questions, I gather advice and then I go with my gut. The moments I am most proud of as a mother have happened when no book or message board or mother of many children is around and I just have to trust that I will find my way through a problem or tears or possible medical crisis or tiny broken heart or tantrum or horrific hangnail on a toddler's thumb.
I've learned a lot in those moments, probably more than I have from being bookish and interviewy with friends and doctors and my own parents. I've learned a lot about myself and what I love about being a mother (the trust), what I don't (playing cars and cleaning kid vomit from my purse) and what I love about being my son's mother (the long, deep conversations way past bedtime).
But I am still in awe, stumped, confounded on things that other mothers I know have released over years and having another child and another, and maybe more than that. When I am at a loss, I often turn to my friend Meagan. She has FIVE kids, I think often, she has to know the answer to this. And most of the time, she does. And most of the time, that answer is to go back to my gut feelings. I've never doubted that she can speak fluently about parenting because she has become one so many times. Expert? Absolutely.
I've certainly gotten equally good advice from my friends who have fewer than five children. And I think - I hope - in those circles where women congregate to support new mothers with insights on diapers and colic and making your own baby food (or not) and curfews and screen time, that I have offered some good words, too.
I'm just not sure if I can call myself a parenting expert if I've do this thing one time through.
Maybe that doesn't matter or maybe it matters far more than I can even know. We do love titles, especially when it is shorthand for saying, "LISTEN TO THIS LADY TELL YOU FIVE SIMPLE WAYS TO DO THIS THING!" And I am grateful for the professional opportunities I've had to learn and tell other parents stories and information that empowers them, makes them feel connected, soothes their weary, overtired, tantrumed out souls. I've loved doing what I do for a living.
And who I am professionally is not always exactly the same as who I am at home (I mean, at home when the laptop's closed). What I do know for sure is that I am an expert in my own kid and my own way of parenting. Part of holding that title for me means that I am always learning, observing, adjusting as my boy becomes more and more himself. And perhaps as I do, too.
Can you be a parenting expert if you only have one child? It's a fair question that I imagine has many answers. What do you say?
-By Jessica Ashley
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