The Physics of Parenthood
By Chrissy Boylan
Anyone need a hulking pile of gently-used parenting books? Perhaps you’d like to stack them one on top of another to make a conversation-starting side table. Or use the pages within as eco-friendly kindling at your next backyard bonfire. Hell, you can even hollow them out to use as decoys for the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy we both know you own. I don’t care. All I know is that I won’t be needing them any longer.
That’s right. After years of buying books to feed my parenting addiction, I have seen the errors of my way. I have concluded that parenting is not the linear, academic science to be studied and mastered the way parenting ‘experts’ would have us believe. Parenting is too full of inherent contradictions (“How to Discipline Your Child Without Using the Word “No!”); conflicting opinions (“Experts Advise Always/Never Allowing Kids to Play Unattended Outside); and variable factors (“What to do When Your Child Hates People”).
As a result, parenting books are no different from hotel swimming pools: to be used at your own risk with no lifeguard on duty.
Neither are children, the subject of parenting books, reliable test subjects on which to derive empirical insights. If I’ve learned anything during my tenure as a parent, it’s that children are as difficult to predict and manipulate as subatomic particles. Their behavior defies logic and is best described as random.
Therefore, in order to fully appreciate the magnitude of the task in front of me—successfully helping my children cross the chasm between childhood and adulthood with my sanity at least partially intact—I have decided to toss out my parenting books and trust in quantum physics instead.
Yes, quantum physics.
Think about it—quantum physics exists solely to document the ways in which the immutable laws of our universe don’t hold true when applied to our smallest counterparts. Physicists have staked entire careers trying to prove the ways in which the behavior of smaller beings (i.e., subatomic particles and children) run wholly counter to what we know and expect from larger beings (i.e., things of discrete mass and fellow grown-ups).
If this isn’t the best metaphor for parenting since herding cats, then call me a quark and spin me around and round in a particle accelerator! And so, I am cutting the cord between me and the divisive parenting books swallowing up my psyche. I am taking a quantum leap—ha, ha—and living by the following three parenting principles:
1. It’s All Theoretical.
Quantum physics has been around for over a hundred years and yet no one, not Einstein, Planck or Bohr, has been able to prove a damn thing. Even their experiments are theoretical. So what makes me think that parenting ‘experts’ know what they’re talking about? Will eating peanuts while pregnant prevent or produce peanut allergies? Which dynamic is more important to a child’s future: nature or nurture? Why is Caillou bald? No one knows, least of all me.
2. Children’s Behavior is Totally Random.
Since my children refuse to adhere to the physical laws of our universe, I am ready to admit that any prior success I’ve had with specific parenting strategies was purely incidental. Remember that one time my child ate a green vegetable and I bragged about it on Facebook? I was so proud of myself for following the advice of experts, who advise serving eschewed vegetables more times than seemingly worthwhile. And voilÃ , one night when Mercury was in retrograde, my child ate a green vegetable! Yet. Seeing as how I have not yet been able to recreate this small miracle ever again, I can only now conclude it was a random occurrence, and therefore a statistical outlier.
3. I Am Both a “Good’ Parent and ‘Bad’ Parent All at the Same Time.
According to Erwin SchrÃ¶dinger, and his poor cat stuck in a box, no one, including me, will be able to predict whether my children will turn out better or worse for having had me as a parent until it’s too late. They have as much chance of becoming better people from my labors as they do turning against me and all I stand for. Either way, I won’t know until they are adults themselves. Even then, the philosophical argument will remain—to what degree are my children a reflection of my parenting and not of their own choices, unique genetic material and the society in which they live?
In the end, my track record with the latest and greatest parenting craze is like my track record with any and every diet I’ve ever tried. The advertised results are not typical and definitely vary. This isn’t to say I won’t still skim the latest research, blanch at people’s brags on Facebook, and adapt my parenting approaches as my children age and grow. I will. But I won’t look for the one ‘right’ way to parent my children. I’ll be too busy having a quantum physics-fueled existential crisis along the way.
Chrissy Boylan is a writer and parent in the Washington DC area whose work has appeared in several publications including Brain, Child, the Washington Post and the Christian Science Monitor. You can find more of her work at www.chrissyboylan.com.
Illustration by Christine Juneau