The past few weeks, much to my wife’s chagrin, I’ve been talking to everyone who will listen to me about this book. Just in case you don’t click on the link, here it is again:
I mean this book.
This book is absolutely an amazing read for anyone who has children, works with children, has any interest in children, or was a child themselves.
There’s a lot I could say about this book and why it’s so great. To begin with, it covers all the bases of a great popular book about science.* But, most importantly, it really has a beautiful and amazing thesis. That I think every parent should turn somehow into a mantra that they repeat to themselves every single day.
Quoting here from the introduction:
There is a simple way to summarize much of the research on the neuroscience of child development: children grow like dandelions. In Sweden, the term maskrosbarn (dandelion child) is used to describe children who seem to flourish regardless of their circumstances. Psychological studies suggest that such children are relatively common (at least when raised by “good enough parents who do not abuse or neglect them).
Or, in other words, parents need to chill the f@&k out. When it really comes down to it, a child is in many ways very essentially who they are, regardless of the behaviors and individual decisions their parents make. Research seems to show that small differences in parenting don’t really have that big of an impact on how children turn out over the long haul. So long as any two parents aren’t abusive or neglectful (or impoverished), their kids will turn out equally well.
Unfortunately, our culture really doesn’t believe this at all. We can’t let go of this idea that the seeds of our adult selves–the good, the bad, and the ugly–are indelibly planted in our blank slate brains by our parents. Too often, we think that our destiny is solely dependent on the parenting abilities of our primary caregivers. And this has some negative consequences.
Speaking as a teacher, the most glaring of these negative consequences is in the way parents nowadays relate to their children’s education. Since we think every moment in a young person’s education has long-term consequences that couldn’t possibly be more weighty, we agonize over every single decision. Each time a child struggles, I see parents deflate not just because they’re worried about their children but because on some level in the back of their mind is the judgment of all society that they must be somehow deficient as parents if their children aren’t doing well. It is, in short, their fault if their kid is struggling with school.
You can see this stress play out for most of the parents at my school. School is a major source of stress for many of the parents I talk to. It makes their home lives miserable, and their relationships with their kids suffer as a result. Many parents who say they have great relationships with their kids also say that school is frequently the main sticking point in that relationship; and in some cases it’s become so consistently negative as to be nearly toxic.
Of course, another piece of this collateral damage is on the kids themselves. If it’s their parents fault that they’re not doing well, there’s absolutely no room for them to take responsibility for their actions as students. And boy, do kids use that out. Given the opportunity to blame someone else for your problems, why wouldn’t you?
I’ve written already about the coddled kids meme, and I would argue that what we think is overly-coddled kids whose parents attempt to shield them from failure is actually a symptom of our societal blaming of parents for kids’ outcomes–outcomes over which parents have very little control. Parents attempt to over-compensate for their kids failings because, I believe, they think they’re the ones ultimately responsible for how their kids turn out. Unfortunately for them, they’re pretty much wrong.
In the realm of the serenity prayer, I think it’s important for us as a society to start recognizing this fact and start focusing on the important thing that parents really do have control over. That is, of course, their relationship with their kids. I’ll bet if you look back at your own upbringing, you may not remember much of how your parents decided to raise you, but you will remember the quality of your relationship with them. Were they happy? Did you have fun together? Did they play with you? Are you still close, even now? Or do you cringe when they call?
The bottom line is that this world would be a better place if more parents had that as their primary goal for their children. Instead of agonizing over every little detail, we need to chill the f@*k out and just focus on enjoying our time with our kids.
*Post pending on this one.