From the moment you announce you are expecting a baby, well-meaning people start giving you advice. You too, start asking, researching and buying books on parenting and how to set your baby up for a bright start and a successful life.
So much advice is given and there are so many parenting books out there you can actually pick and choose what you want to believe and stick with what you like best, even if it completely contradicts knowledge from another equally reputable source.
The only constant across most sources is the idea that if a child isn’t succeeding, you must be doing something wrong as a parent and it is somehow your fault. It’s no wonder 70% of parents feel judged all the time, even by complete strangers.
What does science have to say about all the advice on parenting and how children actually turn out?
According to Yuko Munakata, Professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado Boulder, who specializes in child development and environmental influences on children’s thinking, and her popular TED talk on the subject, we can’t predict how a child’s life will turn out.
“Trying to predict how a child will turn out based on choices made by parents is like trying to predict a hurricane from the flap of a butterfly’s wings,” she explains.
This does not mean that parenting doesn’t matter. It means children are shaped by many forces, most of which we cannot control as parents. Munakata explains that the term “parenting” only appeared in the 1970’s, because before then parents were not viewed as active shapers of a child’s future.
Scientific studies that follow twins, identical and fraternal, as well as siblings, living together or apart have shown that growing up in the same household does not make children noticeably more alike. Genes and the environment they grow up in do, but there is so much more to that as well.
As unbelievable and contradictory as this may seem to popular wisdom, it makes sense. Think about how the same parents (your parents, for example) raise and shape children differently (like you and your siblings).
There’s more to parenting than trying to shape a specific outcome
“Just because an event doesn’t shape people in the same way, doesn’t mean it had no effect. Your parenting could be shaping your children just not in ways that lead them to become more alike.”
Even though scientific research can tell us a lot and understanding child development can help guide our reasoning and expectations as parents, science cannot tell us everything. Each parent and child is unique and will react differently to different situations.
So here’s what we do know:
Parenting matters– but how it matters to each individual child is complex and difficult to predict. Parents have influence, but not control.
Stop blaming yourself as a parent, stop blaming your parents and stop blaming (and judging) other parents.
Enjoy and appreciate parenting your children now. Each moment with your child is powerful and meaningful, and enjoying those moments is more important than trying to predict or create a specific future for your child. You have no control over the future, but you can choose what you do now.
Basically, the best parenting advice is to focus on enjoying your life as a parent and celebrating your child as an individual, rather than worrying about a future you have no control over.
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