I was obsessing over my blog the other night to John. I was saying, "I just want to share the things I've learned -- but I'm afraid I sound like I'm trying to set myself up as a parenting expert -- and what do I know?" He said something very wise: "I don't understand why mothers keep lecturing and advising and comparing and trying to tell each other they're doing it wrong. Kids aren't cars. There's no manual, and every single one is completely different."
How right he is. What works for my son might be a disaster for yours. What finally cured your child's problem could make (what looks like) the same problem in mine worse. I'm reminded of this over and over, as I tell on my blog what I've learned, and people comment to say, "No offense intended, but I did the exact opposite of what you say and it worked great." Really, it's no surprise. Why shouldn't something totally different work for a totally different child? Even with the same child, the two different parents may find totally different things work. For instance, I never teasingly tell Marko not to do something as part of a game, because I'm afraid he wouldn't be able to distinguish between "Oh no! Don't tickle me!" and "No, I'm really serious, don't hit." But John does, and he uses such a markedly different tone of voice for each that Marko doesn't seem to have any trouble telling which is which. I'm not sure I could do that, but he can.
I have a lot of strong opinions, mainly based on my goals. Our parenting choices arise from our goal of what we want our children to become. I have a lot of goals for my son, like "be a person of faith," "have healthy relationships," "be a generally happy person." John has just one main goal for him, "be an independent thinker." These goals inform our choices. Because I don't want him to be a driven high-achiever (unless he wants to be), and because I don't want him to develop a slavish sense of obedience or deference to authority (because we're such revolutionaries in this house), the methods that achieve these goals don't sit right with me. I am not interested in making him practice piano for hours, a la Tiger Mother, to make him a high achiever. And I don't want to force him to outwardly agree with me and defer to me at all times, because I want him always to challenge the status quo and use his own brain. It's hard for me to be accepting of those who are seeking different goals, because it reveals such a different worldview. And yet I have to acknowledge that, if you are seeking a different goal from mine, it's no wonder you will do different things than I do.
Meanwhile, even if you do have the same goals as I have, you might take a different route to get there and still be right. Your kids are different. You are different. Your home is different. Your life looks a lot different! And yet, whenever I get bogged down in what I do and what I think and how could other people possibly do something different and have it be okay, I remember one thing. I have a number of very close friends whom I admire very much. With one exception, they all think their parents did a good job raising them, and they maintain close relationships with their families. They are in healthy relationships, are independent thinkers, are people of strong faith -- everything I want my children to be when they grow up. And yet, when I took a brief, informal survey of parenting methods at a party one night, I got everything across the board -- from hands-off to hands-on, from free-range to intensive attention, from tiny families to huge ones. They attended a variety of schools. And they all turned out great. Is it such a stretch to imagine that their children, and the children of other people I know, will all turn out great, too? Simply having loving parents who are making their parenting decisions mindfully gives a child an enormous leg up over the "average."
Kids are so different, it's hard to generalize anything. Kids aren't even the same as themselves from day to day. They pass through stages like lightning. So if I can't even make a generalization about my child without qualifying it with "at the moment" -- realizing, of course, that six months ago this would never have worked, and six months from now it will probably have outlived its usefulness -- obviously I can't really talk about other people's kids.
That doesn't mean what I'm doing here, and what we all do when we compare parenting stories and give each other advice, is useless. We're just sharing wisdom. True, my wisdom may not apply to you. But maybe it could give you an idea. That's all we're doing, giving each other ideas and swapping tips. I find it incredibly helpful to listen to other parents and read parenting books, because they inspire me. Hearing from one veteran mom, "I never raised a hand to my children, and they all turned out wonderful," does wonders to encourage me that not spanking won't create a monster. And hearing from another, "I did the opposite of what you do, and my child still gave me a really hard time at two," helps me take a deep breath and realize that not everything my son does is a result of my terrible parenting. But I take it with a grain of salt, and I hope you do, too, when you read what I say here. I have my opinions and my stories and my advice ... but it might not work at all for you. But it may help you, one way or another, to hear that it does work for me.
So, I'm going to keep running my mouth about what I think on here, but please do keep that in mind: I only know my child. I don't know yours. I'd love to hear what you did with yours and how it was the same or different. I'm not sitting behind my computer screen, judging you because you did something different. I'm just picking up whatever wisdom in what you say might be applied to my own situation. And I'm marveling in the way loving parents can find a multitude of ways to pour that love out on their children ... because, you know, that's what you're doing. It's a beautiful thing to watch.