I spent some time with my 2-month-old niece Kenzie over my vacation, and here’s what I can tell you: She has really bonded with the chandelier in my parent’s living room.
Every time she saw that thing, she gazed at it and smiled and made funny baby noises. With the exception of my mother, she seemed far less interested in her human relatives, refusing to look my father in the face and becoming increasingly distraught whenever I held her. I’m trying really hard to make this kid like me, but she seems bound and determined to resist my charms.
And I’m already getting blamed for the baby’s bad behavior. At one point, Kenzie was acting particularly cranky and stubborn, and my sister said, “She gets this from her aunt.” Which didn’t seem quite fair to me. From what I can tell, the baby is way more interested in lamps and windows than anything I ever do. And she clearly has a mind of her own.
Of course, there’s an entire genre of books devoted to teaching parents how to mold their children into the best little people they can be, and the vast majority of parents gravitate toward some sort of parenting philosophy. My sister and her husband have filled their home with books and enriching toys, and they read to Kenzie and take her for daily walks. They hardly ever put her down or let her cry for any length of time, and she usually falls asleep on the couch with them, before being moved into her own bed for the night.
Everyone has their own way of doing things.
During my vacation, I met up with an old friend from high school and was surprised to discover a child-rearing philosophy that was much different from my sister’s gentle and patient way of doing things. My high school friend had already asked the staff at his 6-month-old son’s daycare not to intervene if someone stole the child’s toys — “I want him to learn to deal with situations like that on his own” — and takes a “let the baby cry it out” approach to bedtime.
“How’s that working out for you?” I asked.
“It’s great,” my friend said. “The first night, he cried for a half hour and then he fell asleep. The second night, he cried for 15 minutes and fell asleep. Now he just goes to sleep.” My friend gestured at the other families sharing his ocean-side cottage. “We have the best behaved kid here,” he said. “It’s because we’re firm and willing to discipline.”
I’m always interested in hearing what my friends have to say about parenting, mostly because I cannot believe that the goofballs I hang out with are now raising their own children.
My high school friend, in particular, is an interesting case study. As recently as three years ago, he was saying he would never have children, and although most people lie when they say this, I actually believed him. “You said you were never going to have children,” I pointed out. “Things change,” he said.
Being familiar with some of my friend’s youthful antics, I also found his “tough dad” approach kind of fascinating: Was this really the same guy who once skipped school just to prove that he could (and got into more than a little trouble when his bus driver spied him hanging out at a Dunkin’ Donuts)? Where was all this talk of responsibility and consequences coming from? Since I suspect that most parents get the kids they deserve, I’m eager to see what my friend’s son throws at him during his high school years.
Eager to see results
I don’t have any experience parenting, but I now have some experience gardening, which is both easier and harder than it looks.
Some of our vegetables are doing pretty well — especially the zucchini, although the lettuce and chard have come along nicely. But we’ve completely lost track of our garlic, and the jury is still out on the beans, basil, cucumbers and potatoes.
One thing we’ve learned is the value of planting in clearly defined rows — something, for the most part, that we neglected to do. And our garden is pretty weedy. We weed it, of course, but we simply can’t keep up. And we’re probably less diligent than our fellow gardeners, who seem way more on the ball than we are.
So we have a bit of a gardening inferiority complex.
That said, I’ve been enjoying walking down to the garden, picking lettuce and peas, and eating them with dinner. The zucchini is finding uses — I’ve eaten it raw, sautéed it and even made a zucchini bread — and I’m eager to see how the rest of our crop turns out. We’re somewhat unorthodox in our approach to gardening, and we’ve got a long list of things we would do differently, if we ever do this again, but we haven’t failed: Flawed as our garden is, flawed as we are, we’re still getting good food.
Messy but rewarding
Which reinforces my basic belief that most things turn out OK, in the end.
I suspect that parenting is similar.
My friends might have different ideas about how to do it, but they share a love for their children, and a desire to create a safe and happy home for them.
This, ultimately, is what matters.
It’s easy to believe that there’s some magical child-rearing method that will produce the most well-adjusted kids on earth, but I think of the process more like gardening: messy, with a lot of trial and error, hard work and a great reward.