Template Parenting

I started a new job a few months ago with a communications agency. In most circumstances, it’s very different form of writing than I practised in my previous career as a journalist. But the handy thing is we have templates for almost everything. I rarely have to reinvent the wheel; I plug my facts and brilliant insights into a pre-established form and I’m all set. It’s very convenient.

Unfortunately, parenting doesn’t work the same way.

One of the lessons I’m constantly learning with four kids is that there’s rarely such thing as a tried-and-true method. Each kid is so different in personality that what works for one doesn’t always work for another.

Some of our biggest struggles right now are with Oscar, our three-year-old. Many simply arise from the fact that he’s three, and most three-year-olds are stubborn, illogical creatures. But I think some of our frustrations (and his) stem from the fact that we don’t always “get” him. When I’m trying to calm him after a meltdown or discipline him when he acts up, I often respond—and expect him to respond—like I was dealing with our older son. That doesn’t work.

It’s not just an age gap. Oscar is wired differently. When he’s having a crisis moment, I can’t automatically stop and think, “Well, this is what we did when Xander went through the same thing at his age.” Those preconceptions sometimes hurt more than they help.

No doubt we’ll go through the same thing with Gideon—and of course Maliah is an entirely unique case. With her hearing issues, we’ve had to learn new ways to communicate with her on the most basic level.

This is why I’m wary of well-meaning parenting advice that says “In Situation X, you should always do Y.” It might apply to some kids, or even most, but rarely all.

There are a few common-sense rules of parenting that should be universal—it’s pretty much never a good idea to let your pre-schooler live on a straight diet of Froot Loops and Coke, or indulge in a Saw movie marathon—but in most cases it’s a fluid, ever-changing game of trying to figure out the right solution in each situation.

The moral of the story is that you never completely know what you’re doing as a parent. The sooner you accept this reality, the easier your life will be.

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