Sunday, March 24, 2013

Is Raising Children Like Baking Cookies?

Yesterday Kyle helped me make a batch of The World's Greatest Cookies. Since Kaleb had gone fishing with Daddy, Kyle got to help me with every step. I was able to set aside my own well-honed routine and allowed him to really take part in the process. Did it bother me that instead of carefully unwrapping the margarine and letting it roll off the wrapping into the mixing bowl without a mess he chose to fully unwrap each stick, grab it with his hand, and toss it into the bowl? Hell to the yes, it was all I could do to bite my tongue. Did it irritate me that every single ingredient I grabbed he stated "I can do that" instead of asking politely if he could do it? Yes! Most importantly though, did the cookies get done and did they taste awesome? Of course!

This morning I was laying sleeplessly in bed, unwilling to commit to getting my butt out of bed but also unwilling to admit that I was too uncomfortable to go back to sleep. As my thoughts wandered around in my head I had a thought that seemed to require more in-depth thought. Is raising children like baking cookies?

When you set aside time to back cookies you first decide what type of cookie you would like to end up with as your final product, right? Once you decide you want chocolate chip cookies, do you grab a recipe for peanut butter cookies? Of course not, you choose your go-to, tried and true family recipe for awesome chocolate chip cookies. Once the recipe is chosen you then simply follow the directions. You carefully measure each ingredient and add it at the proper time, taking care not to mix the dough to just the right consistency. You set the temperature of your oven with great care as well, knowing that getting the temperature right will keep you from either undercooking or overcooking an entire cookie sheet of yummy deliciousness. You space your cookies out in the sheet and, when the oven has preheated, you place them in the oven, set the timer for the absolute proper amount of time, and trust the oven to handle the rest. When the timer goes off, you remove the cookies, likely let them cool for a bit, and place them on a sheet to cool. If you are like me, you cannot resist trying one or two while they are still warm and fresh. And they are mostly perfection! A few here or there may be too done or not quite done enough, but they are all very good and you do not throw one own for slight imperfection. Let's face it; some people like cookies that are overdone or burnt. And some people like cookies that maintain a level of gooeyness because they were slightly under baked. My point is, there are varying opinions of what the final product should actually be, though they are all chocolate chip cookies.

When we make the choice to have children we are not able to simply decide what type of children we want to have. Even if science has come to the point that gender selection is technically possible, we do not have the option of deciding our final product. Most of us want to produce respectful, smart, successful, contributing members of society. So...where is our recipe?

Some parents believe whole-heartedly that they possess the recipe required to raise their children into the ideal final product. Actually, some non-parents believe in their recipes even more, which is a whole different blog post! What is your recipe? Is it one based in faith or science? Is it a combination of the two? Do you have a one-size-fits-all recipe for all of your children or do you have hand-tailored recipes for each child? What makes your recipe superior to mine, superior to that of your neighbor? Does my faith in my recipe give me the right to make you feel like your recipe is never going to work? Does your belief in your own recipe give you the ability to feel better than other parents about your own skills? Are you still searching for the recipe, believing it exists? Do you hold no illusions that a recipe exists?

All too often it seems that parents are in the Betty Crocker Cook-off, Parenting Edition. When are we all going to wake up and realize that everyone's ideal final product is different, everyone's recipe for achieving the ideal final product is different, everyone's recipe changes and requires adjustment over the course of hands-on parenting, and everyone is desperately trying to appear as if they know exactly what they are doing when they are simply learning through trial and error.

For me personally, I feel that as soon as I feel like I have a rough recipe figured out life comes along and changes it up for us. The recipe may work for a month, it may work for a week, but at some point it will simply stop working and the recipe will need to be tweaked...or thrown out for an entirely new one. I try really hard not to dole out advice about parenting to others who are in the trenches, though that is difficult because it is human nature to give others advice. When someone comes to me seeking out advice, I try to give it with the disclaimer that these are the things *we* have tried and are what works for us *most of the time*. I try not to give advice so much as I try to help people see another approach to a situation that they may not have tried, something that may or may not work but is worth a shot. I fail at this, I know I do. But please, know that I am working on it. When I ask for advice please do not say "what you should do is....", just let me know what you have tried and what has worked for you.

We are all in this together and it is not a competition. Let's help each other succeed.