There are seven billion people in the world. How many of them are children? I don’t know, let’s ballpark it at around two billion. Just for argument’s sake, can we say there are two billion children in the world?
Good, OK. Alright, what’s the average child-per-parent ratio in America these days? I think it’s less than one (always a sign of a thriving civilization), but I’ll be generous and call it two. So, Average Parent in America, out of all the children in the entire world, what percentage have you personally parented? Consider every unique, individual, distinct child. Consider the infinite multitude of environmental, biological, psychological, spiritual, cultural and educational factors that went into crafting their specific and particular identities. Contemplate the human mind; its mysterious nature, its immeasurable complexity. Now consider the fact that every child has one of these minds all to its own. Think about human personality and how many different sorts of it that you’ve encountered in your own limited experience. Now multiply that by a few billion. Try to wrap your head around the variety and diversity of humanity. Now, go back to my question: what percentage of these have YOU actually parented?
Here, I’ll help. The answer is approximately .000000001. If I’m not mistaken, that’s about a tenth of a tenth of a tenth of a tenth of a tenth of a tenth of a tenth of a tenth of a tenth of a percent. The sleepless nights, the stressful days, the joys, the pains, the sorrows, the elation, the suffering, the sacrifice, the love; everything that comes with parenting. You’ve gone through all of this — with .000000001 percent of the children on the planet. You have never parented a full 99.99999999 percent of the children in the world.
By no means am I attempting to diminish your experience. How could I? What kind of person would want to do such a thing?
No, your experience is profound and beautiful. Your experience is incredible and unimaginable. Your experience is YOUR experience. It could never be less than that, but it also can’t be more than that.
Stop trying to make it more than that. It’s everything it needs to be. But your experience is not enough to write the Official Guide to Parenting the Right Way. Your sample size is far too small, and so is mine, and so is everybody’s.
So stop it. Just stop it. If you debate parenting techniques as if there’s One Right Answer, and then accuse other parents of causing damage to their children because they don’t subscribe to your techniques: stop it. If there’s two billion children on the planet, there’s two billion answers. TWO BILLION. Are you confident that you have the formula for all two billion of them? If you do, then your own kids better be perfect. I mean, flawless. I mean, you’re raising a little Gandhi/Mother Theresa/Moses/Spiderman hybrid. If you have the secret to parenting EVERY CHILD ON THE PLANET, I better not come to your house and find your kid stuffing crayons up his nose or peeing on the cat or whatever other things that normal (but not perfect) kids do. I better find him in his room, playing a recording of a classical music piece he composed, while inventing a cure for cancer.
See, something happened, and I never wanted it. I became a “Daddy Blogger.” I guess because I have a blog, and I am a daddy, and sometimes those two things collide. Whatever the reason, some folks are now under the impression that my blog is “about parenting.” Little do they know that my blog isn’t actually about anything. Some days it might be about parenting. Others, it might be about religion, or fitness, or psychology, or bad musicals, or politics. I’m not an expert in any of these subjects but I write about them because they’re on my mind. When things are on my mind, I write them down. My therapist recommended that strategy about ten years ago; and now here we are.
In any case, I’m perceived as a “Daddy Blogger,” which means I get a lot of emails dealing with parenting topics. Some of them are interesting and enlightening. Some of them — dozens every week — are, well, like this one from last night:
“…can you write a post about CIO? Parents that do this are abusing their children and creating abandonment issues for the future. I have some friends that practice CIO and I can’t stand what they’re doing to their children…”
I had to look up “CIO.” I thought it stood for Chief Intelligence Officer — in which case, yes, absolutely. I think parents ought to be the CIOs of the household; analyzing data, monitoring phone calls, spying on computer and internet activity, tracking your kids’ comings and goings, etc.
Ah, but apparently CIO actually stands for “cry it out.” This is when your baby is crying in her crib and you let her cry it out, rather than immediately coming and picking her up. I had no idea that this was a “thing.” I thought it was something that people do sometimes, depending on the child, depending on the circumstance, depending on her needs, depending on the parents, depending on a thousand different ifs ands and buts. Silly me. Google informs me that this is a huge controversy. How long OTHER PEOPLE allow THEIR children to cry has become controversial. We must all have an opinion about whether or not any parent should ever do this in any situation, and we must impose that opinion on others.
Here’s another email. This one is from Friday:
“Matt, as a well known Dad Blogger I thought you’d like to tackle the issue of spanking. Personally I think the white trash hicks who physically impose themselves ontheir kids should be locked away. How is anyone still doing this in the year 2013? Spanking is just another word for child abuse.”
That’s from a guy named Vince. He’s determined that spanking is always wrong for every child no matter what, and any parent who does it must be an abusive white trash hick. My parents spanked us on rare occasion. They had six kids. Three of us are now married with kids, another entered a religious order, and the youngest is still in college at a small private university. In other words, we’re all having success, living nice lives, and we were all spanked as kids. Would we be failures if we hadn’t been spanked? No, I doubt it. But spanking was part of a parenting strategy that really appears to have worked well for my parents. So that’s it. End of discussion.
Or at least it should be.
And there are hundreds of other emails and messages I could copy and paste here, but I don’t think that’s necessary. Parenting is “controversial” nowadays, so naturally every single dimension of it must be debated, discussed, argued over and even legislated. The Spanish sought the Fountain of Youth. We seek the Perfect Parenting Recipe.
Well, we don’t “seek” it, so much as try to convince all of our friends that we already have it.
What are we doing to ourselves? What are we doing to parents? What are we especially doing to new parents? I can answer that last question, because I am one. We are taking an already difficult time, and an already overwhelming experience, and heaping on top of it a massive helping of paranoia, not to mention feelings of doubt and insufficiency. I’m a pretty confident guy but even I feel the impact after a while. It’s inevitable when everyone is beating me over the head with “advice” that’s always framed like this: “PARENT YOUR CHILDREN MY WAY OR THEY WILL DIE!”
And, since everyone thinks they have the Handbook to Parenting, you end up with a billion different Handbooks that say a billion different things. Imagine getting a job at a nuclear reactor, only to sit down at the control panel and find that every button has a dozen conflicting labels: “push here if you want to turn up the air conditioning, or it might cause a fire, or it might make chocolate gum drops fall from the sky, or it might blow up the city, or it might turn on the coffee maker. Also, if you don’t push this button everyone will die. Or they’ll die if you do push it. Push the button. Don’t push the button. But push it. Don’t push it.” It would have to be a really huge control panel if every button was labeled that way, but you get the point.
And that’s what’s become of modern parenting. Whereas moms and dads used to make every decision based on the needs of their particular child, now we all enter into this thing utterly discombobulated by the busybody blathering of the peanut gallery. I don’t think you should parent your child based on any societal consensus, but if I wanted to determine the consensus, it seems to be something like this: You shouldn’t spank your child because it’s abusive and you’ll destroy his self-esteem and ruin his life. But you also should spank your child because if you don’t he won’t be disciplined and then he’ll turn into a drug addict and his life will be ruined. You shouldn’t let your baby cry it out because you’ll create abandonment issues and you’ll ruin his life. But you also should let him cry it out because otherwise he’ll become needy and demanding and he’ll never be a well-adjusted adult and his life will be ruined. You shouldn’t circumcise because it’s genital mutilation and you’re a horrible person who ruined their son’s life. You also should circumcise because it’s hygienic and it prevents infections and it prevents the ruination of your child’s life. You shouldn’t use formula because it’s lazy and you’re an awful parent and you will ruin the lives of your children. But you also shouldn’t breastfeed for too long because you’re a freak and a weirdo and your child will grow up and still be breastfeeding when she’s in college, which will ruin her life. Oh, don’t forget sleeping. Yes, sleeping is controversial. How you choose to sleep, and the location of your baby while you sleep — this is something that must be hotly debated. You shouldn’t co-sleep because it creates attachment issues and you might smother your child and he’ll die. You also should co-sleep because only a monster would banish their child to a different room, where she will likely get SIDS and die. Wait, but pacifiers. Yes, pacifiers. These are lightning rods for controversy. You shouldn’t use pacifiers because you’ll give your child an oral fixation and he’ll be dependent on them until he’s 40 and his life will be ruined. You also should use pacifiers because otherwise he’ll cry all the time and you’ll feed him just to shut him up and he’ll get fat and his life will be ruined. What about the sort of car seat you buy? Or the diapers you use? Or the clothing you dress them in? Or how you carry them? All controversial. You’re a scoundrel and a lowlife no matter which way you go with any of these decisions. And many of these things are really only “controversial” among moms — dads don’t generally argue about these sorts of topics — but I get thrust into the middle of all of this simply because I wrote a few blog posts about parenting. WHAT IS GOING ON? WHAT IS WRONG WITH US? CALM DOWN, EVERYONE. ME FIRST? Right, me first.
OK, I’m calm. But seriously, this is nuts. Parenting is hard enough as it is. We don’t have to turn every movement, every choice, every strategy, into a battlefield, where the bruised and bloodied bodies of unsuspecting parents are strewn about; beaten and defeated by the barbarian hordes who descended upon hearing news that some stranger was raising their kid in a way that doesn’t align with the beliefs and perspectives of every other person on the globe.
As far as I can tell, from my own .000000001 percent experience, there is only one “strategy” that absolutely every parent in the world ought to adopt: love your children. Love them. Strive to do what is best for them. This, this I will insist is the “right” way for all parents to parent. I’m not saying love is ALL your child needs. She probably needs some food, and water, and shelter, and a ride to field hockey practice, but give her all of these things in love. And whatever direction you go with the “controversial” parenting topics, go that way in love. Love your child. Love YOUR child, specifically. The opinions of the self-appointed jury don’t matter, because those people don’t love your kids. Not like you do. They also don’t know them. Not like you do. They speak in the abstract, based on their experience with their own children. But their own children aren’t your children, and the distinction is absolutely relevant. I don’t know anything. I’m not an expert in anything. I’m certainly not an expert in parenting. But I’m pretty sure about this part. Love your children. Love them, and everything else will fall into place.
Love your child. Then spank him if he needs it. Or don’t. It’s up to you.
But if you do, you’re a white trash hick. So keep that in mind.
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