There seems to be an explosion of parenting advise being dished out in precise “top ten” style lists lately. Have you seen them, too? “10 things every father should tell his daughters”, “Five things every little girl must know”, “Top 15 things every parent should add to their bedtime routine,” etc., etc.
I see these constantly, and you know what? I’m really over it. Because the thing is these lists are a lie.
At best they are oversimplifying the very complex job that is parenthood, and at worst they are creating feelings of anxiety and inadequacy by those of us who read them and worry that because we’re only doing items 2, 7 and 9 we must be short-changing our children. The worst part is when I read these articles and look at who has written them, they are just regular ol’ mom and dad bloggers! They don’t have a child behavior psychology degree, they aren’t pediatricians or social workers. Heck most of them don’t even have grown children! So what makes them experts? Well, we do.
That’s right, in this HuffPost-Facebook-Tumblr-Reddit world of ours we are granting expert status to Joe Blogs and Jane Tweeter. Your neighbor down the street can write a list of “must do’s” for raising well-rounded girls and the next thing you know it’s gotten 10,000 shares, 1 million likes, been featured on Huffington Post, and we’re all sharing and liking and tweeting and pinning that stuff like it’s gospel.
But here’s the thing. There really is only one universal truth when it comes to parenting. One undeniable tidbit of wisdom that all parents must know. Today. Are you ready for it?
It’s this: There is no secret formula to parenting. There’s no handbook, there’s no top ten list of things that you can check-off to ensure your precious darlings grow-up to be happy, healthy, well-rounded adults. Because every child is different.
Let me say that one again. Every. Child. Is. Different.
When our first child was born she was a very easy baby. She slept well, she ate well, she was always happy. She had no medical conditions or major illnesses. She developed pretty much on track, if not somewhat ahead of “schedule”.
Early on my husband and I implemented a method of discipline that consisted of stating the expectations/rules, the consequences of breaking them, and then always being consistent with the follow-through. This worked extremely well for our little toddler. We could take her anywhere and she generally did well.
And I admit it…I became a bit prideful. I would look with dismay at the children screaming “no” at their parents, hitting them, displaying full-on defiance, or even just generally ignoring any rules. While I never said anything out loud I would think to myself, “if only that parent would implement the same type of structure and discipline we have with our daughter, they could be so much better behaved/happier/successful/you-fill-in-the-blank.
Then we had our second and third children — twins — a boy and a girl. My son was active, silly and rambunctious from the word go. At first we chalked it up to him being a boy. Then he started pre-school and I soon got a huge, heaping slice of humble pie.
“There’s no top ten list of things that you can check-off to ensure your precious darlings grow-up to be happy, healthy, well-rounded adults.”
When he was three, my son spit at a teacher and called her a name. I was mortified and wanted to hide in the deepest cave on the furthest edge of the world. By the time he was four we knew we had a real problem. His teacher sent home little notes almost every single day about how our son had acted up and misbehaved. It became clear very quickly that she didn’t like our son, which just broke my heart, and that in fact most of the kids didn’t want to play with him because he was so disruptive and prone to horrible outbursts. He spent time in the pre-school director’s office; my husband and I spent time in the pre-school director’s office. We tried different discipline strategies. Reward and affirmation strategies. Punishments. Love, logic and everything in between. We prayed. We sought counsel. We even had him moved to a different class, but after one week that teacher asked to have him moved back to the original class! I kid you not.
We were totally ill-equipped and at a loss for what to do. Nothing that had worked so perfectly with my daughter seemed to work with my son. I cried with my son and for my son so much that year.
Then kindergarten came. We were blessed with the most amazing teacher. She and I had met before school started so I could discuss our challenges. I knew she was going to be good for us/him when she was telling me about her different methods of discipline in the classroom and ended with, “And then, I just pray for them because often that’s the best thing I can do.”
Within a few months she recommended we have him tested for ADHD and other learning disabilities. This did not surprise me and I was happy to find a local child psychologist who would test for everything so we could take comfort knowing we were getting the most accurate diagnosis. The psychologist told us that we had a gifted son with an extremely severe case of ADHD. She walked us through the medical science behind that diagnosis and the treatment options. We were fortunate to find one that worked for our son rather quickly and he ended the year on a more positive note.
Today he’s in the third grade and getting ready to turn 9. We still have very difficult moments, but overall he’s a happy, healthy, honor roll student with lots of wonderful friends. In short, he’s thriving.
But that isn’t the end of the story. You see last year, while my son was having the best year of his young life, my eldest — that easy, happy, never-a-problem child I mentioned earlier? Well she decided to have a rebellious streak. My straight-A student started handing in assignments late or not at all and her grades dropped. She started lying to us, being sneaky, and even ran-away from school one day.
Again, I found myself completely ill-equipped and unsure what to do. I thought I knew how to parent and guide and discipline this child and it seemed overnight she changed all the rules. I had well-meaning friends who did things like lecture her in front of me, or share their thoughts about how she just needed more positive influences in her life. I know they meant well, but with each bit of unsolicited advice or comparison to what their child was or wasn’t doing, I felt worse and worse about my child and my ability to parent her.
So, my husband and I did the only thing we knew to do. We talked to God. We talked to her and to her teachers. We reinforced boundaries and took things away. We told her we loved her and re-stated our expectations. Some of this seemed to work, some of it didn’t. But we continued to pray and do what we thought best, just like we did with our son. And over the summer I saw a shift in her. A new maturity and self-awareness. She’s in the 6th grade this year and having a great year so far. The worst seems to be behind us.
If I have learned one thing in my 11.5 years as a parent it’s this: just when you think you’ve got it figured out, something will change. I have three children who are individuals with different personalities. They are growing and evolving and exposed to 100’s of external influences every week. The parenting tactic that worked today may not work tomorrow. And what works for us may not work for our friends down the street. Because every child is different.
So before you are quick to judge that mom with the pre-schooler throwing a tantrum in Target. Before you dole out that unsolicited advise to your best friend who is struggling with a rebellious child. Before you read and “like” and share that “top ten things every parent must do” article, I ask you to stop. Stop and remind yourself that every child is unique. Every parent’s struggle different from yours for the simple reason that they and their family are different from yours. Today’s little angel may be tomorrow’s phone call from the principal.
And you: mom or dad reading this who just got off the phone with said principal, or just got done grounding your child for the umpteenth time. Be kind to yourself! Take a deep breath. Pray for guidance. But whatever you do, don’t read another article that will try and neatly package the essence of good-parenting in 1,000 words or less. Because this parenting gig is a messy, complicated, exhausting marathon and it looks different on each one of us.
But don’t take my word for it. I’m just a blogger.