There is no formula for raising a child
JACKSON HOLE NEWS & GUIDE:
When I became a parent and my firstborn hit the age of having a will of his own, I wanted a formula on how to parent.
I had been a wildlife research biologist. I took calculus in high school and college. My mind likes linear rules. Formulas are nice and easy. A+B=C. Parenting books and research articles on child development talk this way: Certain ways of parenting are correlated with certain positive outcomes in children. The science was there, so give me the formula. I soon realized two things: Children don’t know the formula and parenting is messy. While formulas can be used as a guideline, there are way too many variables.
This was hard for me to swallow.
We all want the best for our kids. We all want them to grow up to be the best versions of themselves. However you define it, we want our kids to thrive. While there may be some universals (like I hope my child grows up to be well-adjusted, kind and “successful”), our hopes and dreams for our kids and their hopes and dreams for themselves vary. So the question is, how do we help our kids get there?
If there’s no formula, what do we do when we find ourselves held hostage by a 3-year-old’s screaming meltdown because she couldn’t have the red cup? What do we do when our teenager defies rules we set based on values we believe in?
We as parents have to be quick on our feet. We have to be skilled at regulating our own strong emotions in response to our children’s behaviors. Most of us have little training in why a child behaves the way she does, how his brain functions differently from an adult’s, and how to work through challenging behaviors in a way that supports the child’s development. We are accustomed to a world that works with certain rules: order, rationality, consideration for others. Our children, whose brains are not fully developed until their mid-20s, are not always capable of playing in our ordered, rational world. Adding to that, we have to learn how to have a relationship with a being who is trying to gain his own sense of self, who wants to be independent, make her own choices, feel capable. So we bump heads, a lot. (But not always. Of course being a parent is filled with fun and laughter and awe as well.)
There can be no formula because there are too many variables. Each parent-child pair will be different — different temperaments, values, goals, reactions, trigger points, stressors, cultures and life circumstances.
In this column I will explore what it’s like to be a parent and raise a child in today’s world. I love my kids and we have lots of fun together. At the same time, being a parent has been one of the hardest roles in life I’ve had. I acknowledge that not everyone feels this way, and that every family context is different, but for those of us who do find parenting challenging, I don’t think it has to be quite as intense as we sometimes feel it is.
As an educator and coach of parents I see my role as a guide. I want to help families feel more ease and harmony in their homes. I want kids to grow up to become the best version of themselves. My hope is to introduce families to ideas and perspectives, often backed by research; help them see the world from their child’s shoes; understand what their child is developmentally capable of; help parents adjust their reactions to support their child’s development; and guide parents in teaching their child the necessary skills to become a thriving adult in today’s world. I try to do this in an open, thoughtful, caring and nonjudgmental way.
To that end I am embarking on a monthly column, where I would like to open a conversation so that you as the reader can participate. Send me feedback — thoughts on my articles, topics you would like me to discuss, scenarios with your child you would like to hear about (all identifying details will be changed so that confidentiality is maintained).
Send me an email at GrowingGreatFamilies@gmail.com, contact me at GrowingGreatFamilies.org or leave me a message at Facebook.com/great.families.
While there is no formula, I believe there are some core principles that can apply across many families, and I bet you know what many of them are: Love your kids unconditionally, accept them for who they are, understand their world, hold them accountable, maintain reasonable limits, teach them the skills they need to live life when they leave the home.
Stay tuned for a more detailed discussion. Until then, see if you can get into your children’s shoes, whether they are 3, 13, or 23, and try to understand where their behaviors are coming from.
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Rachel Wigglesworth has an M.Ed. in Parent and Family Education and is excited to explore the world of raising children with you!