Whether it’s “stay home with your child until they go to kindergarten”, “keep your kids on a sugar-free diet”, or “homeschooling is the best education for children”, the options on parenting are endless. Every step of a child’s life requires decision-making on the part of the parent(s). This includes everything from the beginning of pregnancy or adoptive process all the way until a child makes all their own decisions. With so much advice out there, it’s challenging to know what advice keep and what to let roll off your back.

Before I dig into this, I want to share my background and experience in parenting: I have none. Zip. Zilch. Nada. I’ve never been a parent before and the closest thing I’ve done is nannying/babysitting (which we all know is not the same). However, this close-up partnership with parents and their ever-evolving lives has taught me a lot about parenting by proxy. I’d like to share what I’ve learned as encouragement to all the soldiers out there called “mommy” and “daddy”. These three tips are the top pieces of advice I’ve seen resonate with all kinds of parents:

Be True to Yourself

With so many opinions, self-help books, parenting classes, parenting approaches, and unsolicited advice swirling around, the wealth of information on parenting is ever-growing. It can quickly become overwhelming. Information-overload is a real thing and paralysis by analysis consumes more and more parents all the time. On top of that, well-meaning authors, teachers, and family members dole out parenting advice with a stronger dose of shame than they probably intend (I hope). There’s a reason “mommy-guilt” is a frequently used term. So many parents are advised under the guise of “this is the right way to parent”, rather than “here’s my advice, take it or leave it”. Everyone has an opinion and everyone is right. Sorting junk from gems becomes tricky business.

I love seeing parents stay true to themselves and live authentically for themselves and their family. It’s worth doing what is best for you in your situation, on your timeline, and for your family unit. Whether it’s homeschooling, adopting, fertility treatments, single parenting, blending families, eating 100% organic, going to daycare, stay-at-home parenting, in-home childcare, avoiding sugar, earning screen time or none at all – each family has their own mosaic of choices for what works best for them. This is particularly true as the “typical nuclear family” dynamic is fading away and families look different all the time. Between single-parent families, blended families, and parents part of the LGBTQ community, staying true to yourself is more important than ever before. In addition, every child has a different personality and set of needs while each parent has their own lifestyle, expectations, and goals for parenting. Nobody else can determine what’s best for another family. This includes your extended family, a parenting book, or that lady at the grocery store who decided you needed her world-class advice in the middle of a toddler meltdown.

All of these people have well-meaning advice, but you will be most successful with whatever is best for you, even when others disagree. As the leaders of our next generation, parents are gifted with one of the greatest responsibilities of all and ultimately your approach is up to you, not anyone else. I applaud you from the sidelines, cheering you on to make whatever choices are best for you and your family.

Eyes on Your Own Paper

My next piece of inexperienced advice is to keep your eyes on your own paper. While it’s tempting to check out what others are doing determine the “winner”, this rarely leads to a victory for anyone. “Comparison is the thief of joy” is a cliche for a reason. Comparing your unique journey to the personalized life story of someone else only leaves people feeling inadequate.

On the other side of that coin, there is no room for judgment in parenting either. Different approaches work for different people and, sometimes, it’s just a matter of getting through a crazy difficult season in whatever way you can. Rather than allowing others’ judgmental attitude to affect you or succumb to judging others yourself, focus on your own child and family. If anything, peer into the life of parents around you to see how you can support and encourage them through the tough seasons, which leads to…

Cheerlead Your Fellow Parents

Cheer each other on! You and the other people parenting at the same point in life are the only ones who know what it’s like to parent at this point in time and with the current state of affairs. Nobody can support other parents like fellow parents who are also in the thick of it, who can commiserate with the challenges and leap for joy at the wins because they know the ebbs and flows just like you do. Pull away from the comparison game and build each other up. You know better than anyone what it’s like to do this parenting thing in this time, so your encouragement comes with its own unique flavor of experience that someone like myself cannot provide. Join with one another in this challenging season of parenting and see what you can do to support others along the way.

Parenting is not easy, but highly rewarding (or so I’ve heard). These points don’t just apply to parents and are valuable to apply at any stage in your life – before kids, with kids, never intending to have kids, or empty nesters. We could all stand to have some more authenticity, confidence, and encouragement in our lives, no matter what we’re going through.

*To be perfectly clear, none of this applies to cases of child abuse or neglect. Child abuse or neglect is a completely different conversation, one I am not addressing or referring to in this post. For more information on child abuse and neglect prevention efforts, check out this post.