2011! Welcome to it! As predictably as the sunrise, January 1 fills my inner Pollyanna with a swelling sense of possibility and hopefulness. I may be New Year's cliche, but it sure feels good.
2010 was a year of immense growth for my family, and for me as a parent. You never stop learning on this job. Parents of babies and toddlers, take note: it gets easier, and it also gets more complicated.
An incomplete list of parenting lessons I learned in 2010:
"Education" is not necessarily synonymous with "going to school." In January 2010, we began homeschooling our then 10 year-old son. Now that I have a year of perspective under my belt, I intend to write about it in more detail. But, for now, I'll just say that this last year has changed us all. My son is no longer the frightened, angry, shut-down boy we brought home in January 2010. He's strong, curious, and willing to step out into the world again. And I have had to redefine my assumptions about what and how we learn.
Dr. Spock was right. Trust yourself, because you really do know more than you think. The decision to homeschool our son came after 3 1/2 miserable years in the public school- and medical systems. What's ironic is that each of those systems was filled with remarkable, caring, talented people — teachers, specialists, doctors — all of whom did everything they could for our son. But it wasn't enough, or it wasn't the right stuff, or, most likely, they simply couldn't give him what he needed. Only we could. The problem was that realizing that was the scariest thing I've ever done.
It's not easy to trust yourself when you feel utterly bewildered. Even harder when people you rely on for advice tell you you're nuts. No one actually called us nuts when we decided to pull our kid out of school, but few educators, couselers or family members thought we were doing the right thing. We weren't sure it was the right thing, but our guts told us to try. I will be forever grateful to those who trusted our decision.
The most important parenting skill I've developed is to know when to wait vs. when to act. Consistency is a cure-all bantered about in parenting literature. Kid won't sleep? Kid won't poop? Kid acting up? Consistent application of [insert intervention here] will take care of the problem sooner or later. In other words, choose a method (cry it out, positive reinforcement, whatever) and keep doing it until you get the outcome you want.
In some cases, consistency calls for waiting out the problem to see if it solves itself with development or maturity.
Most of the time, consistency is the answer. But sometimes, parenting problems call for action. I'm not talking about tweaking one's communication methods, or tacking a star chart on the fridge. I'm talking about reexamining assumptions about the problem's causes, and opening yourself to new solutions that come of it.
The trick is to know which problems require which solutions. Which brings me back to trusting your gut…chances are something inside is telling you the right direction to go.
You get do-overs. The problem with retrospectives like this is that I sound so sure of myself. Like "I persisted in the face of adversity! I stuck to my guns! And I was right!" Plays out nicely on paper, but reality is a lot messier. Our first year of homeschooling was full of indecision, false starts, outright mistakes, and plenty of boredom and frustration. It's a metaphor for parenting. No one does it all right because there is no singular "right." You get to make course corrections. If you're heading in the right direction most of the time, you're ok.
All of this is to say that Parent Hacks is as relevant to my parenting life — and, I hope, yours — as it ever has been. I keep having to learn these lessons over and over as new parenting challenges present themselves. Let's keep doing it together.
Happy New Year, Parenthackers. I can't wait to spend another year with you.
More: Hacks about behavior and education