A few years ago a student came up to me after the second day of my class on Parenting and Child Development. She hesitated for a second, and then she confessed that she was interested in the material I was teaching, and she hoped it would help her to become a better parent if she had kids someday. She was disappointed we were going to talk about how parents do not have control in shaping who their children become. She had jumped to the conclusion that my class wouldn’t help her.
I must admit, I was caught off guard that someone would think that confronting the science of parenting and child development not be relevant to being a good parent. I hope that my class changed her mind. Parents want what’s best for their children, and it doesn’t matter whether they are young, old, rich, poor, married or divorced. Parenting books promised to show how to achieve the best outcomes to address the difficult decisions that parents face every day, and in the process to reveal why each of us turned out the way we did. The problem is that parenting books send conflicting messages. Tiger parenting or free-range parenting? Parent like the Dutch to raise the happiest kids in the world, or like the Germans to raise self-reliant children. The one consistent message is that if your child isn’t succeeding, you’re doing something wrong.
The good news though is that the science supports a totally different message that is ultimately empowering. Trying to predict how a child will turn out based on choices made by the parents is like trying to predict a hurricane from the flap of a butterfly’s wings. Do you know the butterfly, the proverbial one that flaps its wings in China. perturbing the atmosphere just enough to shift wind currents that make their way to the skies over tropical white beaches. This then intensifies the water evaporating from the ocean in a spiral of winds, and fuels a hurricane in the Caribbean six weeks after that flutter of wings. If you are a parent you are the butterfly flapping your wings, and your child is the hurricane, a breathtaking force of nature you will shape to become the person you want them to be.