You Are the Expert
It was after five o’clock, and tired commuters crowded the grocery store, grabbing a few items for supper. Suddenly, a child’s delighted squeal rang out. “Daddy, look! Oranges!!” The father immediately stopped the cart, and his three-year-old reached for a fruit. The two of them caressed the knobby skin, held it to their noses and breathed the aroma, and both laughed aloud. They meandered through the produce section, taking turns exclaiming over the colours. They admired the shapes, and experienced the textures they discovered. The father was unconcerned by the amused smiles from the other shoppers. He shared completely in the joy and wonder of his child’s curiosity.
It’s easy to find information on parenting. There are thousands of books, articles, and blogs on the subject. Information is readily available for every age and stage of a child’s life, from preconception to birthing practices. Toilet training to temper tantrums. From beginning kindergarten through to transitioning to high school and all the way to preparing for post-secondary education. And from graduation to parenting your adult children.
It’s easy to find an expert on child-rearing. Well-respected social scientists, such as Jean Piaget, Erik Erikson and Maria Montessori, have made it their life’s work to study child development and have created complex theories to explain their observations. Universities, governments, and corporations offer grants to fund continued research into this fascinating field. Television gurus, newspaper columnists, and magazine editors distill and dispense parenting wisdom every day. And as every parent knows too well, grandparents, neighbours, and even complete strangers always seem to be willing to provide advice, whether you ask for it or not.
There is, of course, much value for a parent in knowing the characteristics of the different ages and stages of the typical child. It’s worthwhile trying to understand how to encourage academic success or nurture creativity. How to instill values, develop healthy habits, and so on, and so on. And there can be an urgency to finding answers to pressing questions, like “How do I get him to sleep through the night?”
Parenting isn’t an exact science.
Nobody is writing books or articles or blogs about the specific child who lives in your house. None of the “experts” have met your child. Every child is unique, one who has never existed before and will never exist again. Even identical twins aren’t completely identical in every aspect. The carefully constructed theories don’t always explain the reality in your family. The sage advice doesn’t always work.
When it comes to your own child, YOU are the expert. You have the exclusive opportunity to listen, observe, and discover your child’s abilities, strengths, needs, personality, preferences, talents, and interests. In your moment-by-moment actions and reactions, like the father with the grocery cart, you have the privilege of affirming your child’s traits, developing them, and celebrating them.
That’s what makes parenting so scary and hard; and such an awesome responsibility; and such a joyful adventure.
“What’s in your lunchbox, Mr. Bergenstein?”
“I have a tuna salad, an apple, and milk. What’s in your lunchbox, Kara?”
The quiet voices in the corner of the doctor’s waiting room gradually came into focus. I glanced over at the father and his 5-year-old daughter. There were no lunchboxes in sight.
“What time is it, Mr. Bergenstein?”
“I think it’s time for math. Tell me what this shape is...”
I realized that this duo were role-playing a typical day in kindergarten. “It’s time for gym, Mr. Bergenstein.”
“Oh, I think you’re right. Where’s the gym?”
“Down the hall, of course!” And off they went, out of the waiting room and out of sight, reappearing a few minutes later for “reading time”. For 45 minutes, this dad was fully engaged in his daughter’s imagined world. Unabashed, he remained Mr. Bergenstein, oblivious to the other adults in the room.