I am steadily becoming an international parenting consultant (did you know that?), working with people all around the world to improve their experience of parenting; listening to their stories, empathizing with them, giving them advice, and helping them to look at what matters most to them in raising their children. By some I am considered an “expert” in the theory and methodology of Natural Parenting. By some I’ve been called a parenting guru, and a child-rearing revolutionary. And some parents out there even wish they had me for a Papa; or had a partner to parent with that is as interested in parenting as I am; or that they themselves could parent the way Natalie and I do.
Some would say that I am the perfect parent. And that would be just as ridiculous as saying that I made all of the stars. And though I have been studying and practicing being a stellar, empathetic, and confident parent for over a decade, I am no more “perfect” than you are. And at the same time, we are all no less perfect than we should be (but more on that in a minute — I’m not finished debunking…). The wonderful truth is, I couldn’t parent your kids half as well as you; and for them, no one can be as just right as you are. (Maybe you want to read that again just to make sure it gets into your longer term memory…)
Many people reading here, and in the workshops, teleconferences, and consultations that I give, make the erroneous assumption, not only that I am a perfect parent, but also that I am “just that way” — that I have always been an enlightened parent, and that I always act accordingly. They get starry-eyed and fool themselves into forgetting that all human prowess is learned, practiced, and built from the (same) ground up. As Malcolm Gladwell so thoroughly explains in The Tipping Point, so many of the geniuses in history, so many of the experts and masters, weren’t simply born better than the rest of us at their particular skill set — they were educated, and trained, and practiced. And as Gladwell points out, mastery only begins to surface at around 10,000 hours of all that practical experience.
Just to put that into perspective, one full year’s worth of hours is 8,766. So if we didn’t sleep at all, and only practiced what we thought was right, we could be masters of parenting our own children in just about 1.14 years. But of course we do sleep (and would like to sleep more…), and we don’t always practice the kind of parenting we want to be good at doing. So let’s be generous and say we have about half the number of hours in a year to which we may (whether or not we do) devote ourselves to the study, implementation, and practice of stellar parenting. So unless we have previous experience, we have an outside chance of being parenting masters by the time our children are 2 1/2 — that is, if we do little else with those hours…
Just so you know, I’m not trying to let you off the hook for doing your best at raising your children. I am looking to point out that you have about as much chance of being Mozart out of the gate as you do of being a pro parent right away. It’s not that you weren’t cut out for this parenting thing (and other “perfect parents” that you see are), the odds are just against us being parenting masters until we have enough time to develop our skills. For most modern parents, who don’t get nearly enough practice time because they have to work away from their families and are forced to rely on daycare, school, and the like, they reach the 10,000 hours mark and their mastery starts to show itself just about the time they become grandparents.
So let’s just get this idea out of the way, too — you will not always be the kind of parent you think of as perfect. You can’t possibly be practiced enough at that until you are — well, practiced enough. More than likely, you will have to settle for being the apprentice-parent that you are for many years. And if you get the hang of your toddler, the toddler will suddenly be a kid; if you get the hang of dealing with your little kid masterfully, she’ll suddenly be a big kid: and then a pre-teen; and then a teenager; and then a young adult; and so on. It’s like trying to be an expert on randomness — the moment you settle on a theory, the variables shift and you are back to collecting data for a new hypothesis. From kid to kid and stage to stage, the variables continue to play havoc with our theorizing, such that, if there are “masters” of parenting out there, their title is hard-won and subject to an incredibly narrow scope of expertise.
When I was about 6, my Grandfather helped my Mom and I to plant a garden in our back yard. I didn’t know anything about gardening, of course, but was mystified into absolute adoration for this strange area at the end of my expansive outdoor play pen. I watched Grandfather toiling, carving the earth, and sewing life in it’s belly. Then I watched as things magically began to grow there. I watched the watering and the weeding and the harvesting. Over the years, I continued to feel a subconscious link between Grandfather, and gardening, and me, and I became an avid gardener myself. In the 30 plus years since that first garden, I have grown food and flowers in every climate zone of the lower 48 states of the U.S.. I have tended gardens in the year-round growing season of southern coastal Georgia, and in the barely-enough-time-to-harvest growing season of western Montana. When I began, I couldn’t tell a mustard seed from a sand grain. Now, I could grow roses in the ocean.
Like that 6 year-old watching his Grandfather invent gardening from the ground up, most of us come to parenting utterly mystified. We didn’t get enough time as children with our own parents, and we didn’t get enough time watching our siblings being raised, and we didn’t get to be with other families having kids and raising them enough, either, so at the age of procreating, most of us know less about raising a child than we did when we were one. The strange thing is not that we aren’t auto-masters of parenting as soon as the first kid comes along; the strange thing is that we are expected and expect to be. We have all the basic abilities and tendencies, the right drives and precise hormonal perspective-shifts, we have deep intuition, and gut feelings about what’s best, we were born to do it, but like walking and running (which we were also born to do), we don’t set off at a gallup the first time we are on two legs. We study, we practice, we implement, we rely on the natural processes of which we are already a part, and we trust ourselves (without even thinking about it) — and before long we are sprinting and leaping and dancing.
Our parenting can be like that as well. We don’t have to have all of the answers from the moment of conception. Like our little ones, we are learning too. And if we study, and practice, and implement, and trust — then we already are as perfect at parenting our children as we will ever need to be. The Zen parenting trick, here, is that when we give ourselves over to the process of our apprenticeship, and apply our attention toward mastering the art of caring for our kids — then we are already having the experience for which we are aiming, we are already being our most perfect-for-the-moment parenting selves, simply by being authentically present with the experience itself.
No one can be you to your little ones. And no one is better equipped to be the most perfect parent for your children than you. Given enough time and attention, you could grow roses in the ocean. But by giving your time and attention, you already are a master gardener.
May we be kind to ourselves as we bumble along, learning, and becoming, and loving.
Just a reminder: next month, Natalie and I are launching our He Said, She Said E-course called “Parenting on the Same Team”. We’ll be looking at concepts like working with children (as opposed to “doing to” them), having more fun while parenting, being authentic as a parent, and honing your own personal version of parenting perfection. I’ll let you know how you can get in on it as we get a little closer. Stay tuned…