During twelve years of parenting there have been more days than I care to admit where I felt I had failed, often going to bed with a heavy heart and a silent promise to do better tomorrow. And as I inch ever closer towards the murky waters of parenting an adolescent I definitely feel that I have more questions than answers when it comes to this parenting gig.
I don’t think I am unique in finding that each time we have things sorted, the game changes. One child finally sleeps through the night, another commences wetting the bed. One child finds their social niche at school, another spends a year without a birthday party invite. The level of difficulty increases with multiple children, as each child adds ever more complex variables and the interaction between these variables has what seems like infinite outcomes.
My poor youngest child is beating on the door of a mother who has seen some version of it all before. Not that he isn’t unique (he certainly is) or hasn’t come up with new challenges for me to ponder (he certainly has) but I am less likely to run to the nearest bookstore (thankfully there are still some left) and frantically search out another parenting book to deal with the newest development. If I am really perplexed I may consult Dr Google and see what answers she provides. And more often than not the problem resolves itself long before I finally throw up my hands and consult a professional.
The confidence I experienced in the early years of parenting has not been sustained. Meeting the needs of a baby and toddler was for me a relatively simple affair, simple addition compared to the advanced calculus that parenting multiple children across a broad span of ages seems to be. And while I know that if I concentrate really hard I might just find the right answers or manage to apply the correct formula to the problem at hand, I doubt that a formula is what is really called for.
This is not as troubling as it sounds. I have never been one to place great faith in formulaic approaches to child rearing. My sense is that the variables are so great that rather than a simple algebraic equation what is needed is more an approach rooted in philosophy than mathematics, parenting being far more art than science.
I sometimes wish that parenting was as easy as ABC or 1,2,3. In my experience a one size fits all approach is not desirable in the long run. The confidence I had when parenting my children as babies was largely the result of having a very clear underlying philosophy, an understanding of why I was approaching an issue in a particular way even if the books or GP or lady on the street were doing everything in their power to tell me I had it wrong.
These days I often struggle to identify what exactly the underlying problem is that is the cause of unhappiness in one child or discord between siblings. But I am not going to get any closer to an answer myself, nor help my children figure out for themselves what it is that is bothering them, with a simple formula. What I might get is compliance, the parenting equivalent of a correct answer, but in the meantime the real issue may be completely missed and an opportunity for the child and parent to learn and grow lost.
Maybe I did learn something from my mother after all. A mathematics teacher who annoyed my teen self greatly by consistently refusing to tell me how to get the right answer to a mathematical problem, always more concerned that I understood what the problem actually was than that I simply get it right.