Parenting: The Grand Experiment

Last night, for the first time…maybe ever (and I’m not proud of that)…I shed my arrogant façade and was open to hearing what someone else had to say about a topic I feel like I know something about: parenting. The occasion was a parenting workshop entitled “Goldilocks Parenting.”

Of course I was intrigued by the title, because it fits in with how I think we should approach parenting: not too hard, not too soft.


While I should not have been surprised, the theme of the presentation hovered around the Goldilocks zone of parenting thought, but it used the tools of brain research.

Just like with discussions about education, and education reform, talking about “parenting” is a flawed pursuit from the beginning. First you have to ask if you are talking about parenting infants, preschoolers, school-aged, middle-schoolers, or high-school-aged children. Then you have to address whether you are trying to modify undo patterns, or create new ones (really one in the same). And of course you have to ask, is it the child whose behavior you are looking to change, or your own.

The presentation was made by Bill Sommers. A life-long educator Bill has taught in some of the best and worst school in the country. He has coached many educators, and turned around failing schools. As he said about relationships during the presentation, it only takes one person to change a relationship. If you change your behavior, the other person involved is going to have to change theirs.  Of course his comment is arguable, but as a rule is true.

Which was one of his other refrains during the presentation. Everything he said can work, and nothing he says may work, which is the great thing about parenting…as well as relationships, and education, and politics, and anything where two or more people are involved.

So much of the success we seek lies in how we approach parenting…or relationships, or education, or…you get the picture. Are you going in with an already predetermined outcome? Are you going in with an open mind? Are you closing off opportunities before they arise? Are you leaving doors open for opportunities you haven’t even imagined yet?

So much comes from how we communicate with others: verbally and non-verbally. What words are you using? When you offer criticism are the words already implying that the person you are criticizing won’t be able to succeed regardless? And what is success?

So when you look at parenting, what do you see as success? A child who comes out in your image, or a child who develops into an adult in the image he or she imagines for him or herself?  While this question seems rhetorical, it certainly is not. I consider myself quite open minded, and hoping to guide my sons to become the young men they hope to be, but at every turn I have to fight my inclinations for them to become the men I want them to be.

And still I worry.

I had a great parenting mentor when our boys were infants: our pediatrician. She said, “Your only job until they’re two is to keep them alive. Forget all of those videos. Talk to them. Keep them alive.”

When they were toddlers in preschool, when I was so wound up about our oldest not being out of diapers at three, when others of his peers had already long shed their diapers – without accidents – a fantastic preschool teacher said, “Relax, he’s not going to be in diapers when he’s 16.”

With the boys in grade school the focus became their education, but with the foundation from their younger years I began to read more about the process, and talk to educators about finding balance: not to be a helicopter parent, but not to be disengaged either.

Now the oldest is in middle school. A parent of a high schooler at the presentation asked a question about how to motivate her daughter, who explicitly said she was performing well in school to please her mother, and for no other reason.

I fear that result. But I don’t want to be so focused on that fear that the fear comes to fruition. And frighteningly I won’t know the results until we get there.

Parenting: the ultimate experiment.