Many parents have wished for an instruction manual on how to raise children, and many writers have tried to provide one, but the truth is few “experts” agree on what the “right thing to do” is. Frequently, they can’t even agree on the questions. And there’s a good reason—or several good reasons—for the lack of agreement. Individual differences are one issue: It is true that not all children are the same. I get frustrated when my students write, “Everybody is different,” because while true, it is an utterly useless statement. The question is, How are we different? And similar? Our similarities and differences are always evidence for understanding what it is to be human, and understanding these can guide is in choosing a path forward. To say that everybody is different seems to bring an end to the conversation when it should be the beginning.
But the bigger issue is that we have different priorities and different goals for our children. Thus when we read parenting books, we have very different reactions. Some advise makes sense to us and some doesn’t. Some feels right, while others feel wrong or simply too weird. The source of our disagreements is, however, rarely visible. One goal of this blog is to make the cause of disagreements more visible and to help parents free themselves to think on their own.
There are also SO MANY books and experts out there–giving sometimes the opposite advice–that we parents can easily become confused and overwhelmed if we spend too much time reading them. Trying to follow the advice of even a small sample of the books can be dizzying. Should we cut out all sugar, refuse vaccinations, fill our kids’ lives with charts and stars, or turn them loose on the world to discover how the world works on their own? I have seen parents attempt to follow expert advice like it was a religious text, but more often I’ve seen parents dismiss the experts and simply go with what feels right, which is generally what Mom and Dad did. Parents need, I argue, to put their minds to work, never forgetting the feelings, but making sense of the advice and their reactions to it.
When I had my kids, I was working toward a PhD in developmental psychology, and if there’s one thing I learned, it was that no one agrees with anyone else about anything. If we did, we would not be able to publish endless texts that must continually demonstrate the originality of its authors. Furthermore, I found that theorists were often discussing different behaviors while they argued, seemingly unaware that they were too busy talking (or writing) to hear each other. As parents, I would argue, we have to read what the experts have said, consider the evidence they have, and decide if this impacts our thinking. And yes, it is a lot of work, but parenting is already so much work, putting in a little extra time to test out what you are doing can’t hurt. It might even be a relief to know that there is a reason for approaching a problem or a daily routine in a particular way—something beyond tradition. So this is a place where I begin putting some of this kind of thinking into practice—based on my own experiences as a parent and psychologist but equally because of conversations with students and friends who are also parents. Join the conversation, and let’s think about parenting together.