The Inexact Science of Parenting

By:  Mary Ann Filler

“Parenting Wordle” created at wordle.net

Have you ever noticed that family members, friends and even complete strangers have very strong opinions about the parenting process?

From the moment the “baby bump” appears, the advice begins to flow about how to best accommodate the little tyke.  All of the “should” and “should not’s” can seem overwhelming for any parent.  Should you nurse or formula feed?  Should you allow a pacifier?  Should your angel be cloaked in cloth or disposable diapers?  Should you leave the house with a new baby or stay cloistered?  Should you make our own baby food or rely on store bought?  When should you begin toilet training? Should your toddler watch TV?  On and on the dilemmas of parenthood go…

When I think back 17 years to those early decisions, I remember wondering if my husband and I were making the “right” decisions for our first-born.  I decided to nurse, but it was difficult.  No one in my family had nursed and there really wasn’t support in our area for nursing mothers.  In addition, my son had colic.  At the time, I remember my very well meaning grandmother saying that I was probably contributing to that condition.  Now, I loved my grandmother, God rest her soul, but the pediatrician stated otherwise.  In fact, the pediatrician said that the colic could actually get worse if we put our son on formula.

My husband and I made other parenting decisions that were, in some circles, frowned upon.  We frequently allowed our son to sleep with us as a result of difficulty he had getting to sleep and staying asleep.  If it weren’t for that decision, I don’t think I would have survived his first year of life!  Still, it was difficult knowing that others did not approve.  Would we ruin his ability to get himself to sleep as some of the “experts” warned?  We also allowed a pacifier to help soothe himself.  Would his teeth be crooked or his speech affected due to this decision?

When it comes down to it, there isn’t one set of “correct” decisions for every parent to follow.  Parenting is NOT an exact science.  Every child is unique as is every parent.  I wish I had been able to smile and nod at the well-meaning advice givers, but many times I became internally defensive and full of doubts as to whether we were making the correct choices.

Parenting in the early years was not a perfect process.  We made mistakes to be sure.  Despite the mistakes, however, I’m happy to report, that our son thrived as he continues to do today.  He gained weight, learned to go to sleep on his own, and gave up the pacifier before it could affect his teeth or speech.  Oh, and despite waiting to potty train until he was close to 3, he learned to use the potty and stay dry day and night.

As our second and third children were born (after gaining perspective from the decision-making process we had experienced with our first born), we were able to relax a bit with those early decisions and realize that we were making the best decisions for OUR children.

BUT, when I think about where we are today with our first son, age 17, I continue to remind myself that every child is unique as is every parent.  We are still making parenting decisions, albeit on a different level.  Should our son be required to work a part-time job?  Should we allow him to drive to school?  How much work should he be required to do around the house?  What are our expectations for his grades?

It’s natural to look left and right to see how our parenting peers are handling these decisions.  In fact, some of our peers may even give us advice, solicited or not.  However, just because a decision is “right” for another family doesn’t mean it’s “right” for yours.  In fact, I’ve discovered that some decisions were appropriate for our oldest son that have not been appropriate for our younger sons.  In the end, the children that we are raising are our responsibility, and we know and love them more than anyone else.

In summary, I leave you with a quote by one very wise Bill Cosby:

“In spite of the six thousand manuals on child raising in the bookstores, child raising is still a dark continent and no one really knows anything. You just need a lot of love and luck – and, of course, courage.” 

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2 thoughts on “The Inexact Science of Parenting

  1. Amen! And, I do also want to “come clean” publicly here and say that I was one of those folks who (and, yes, before I had my son) would sometimes — okay, okay, often — offer an unsolicited comment about childrearing. Thinking my early childhood work experience and elementary education teaching degree would be helpful, I remember giving a few friends “advice” on what would work for their children. Luckily, I have some wonderful friends who (I think) chose to forgive (even if they didn’t forget) and decide not to return the favor now that I’m a mom! Yes, not everything works for every child. There are certainly general principals that have proven effective and worthwhile for most children which is where those expert opinions and child rearing manuals come in, and even prove helpful in many situations. However, I too have now learned to modify as necessary to meet my child’s needs … For example, I am also of the “late” potty-training philosophy which has worked very well for my son, and I am quite sure my 3 1/2 year old won’t be wearing pull-ups to his senior prom!

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