PARENTING IS A PIECE OF CAKE.
Not. But it’s worth it.
Parenting pushes you out of your comfort zone. The skills you have acquired before finding out you were expecting are likely to be pretty useless in raising a little human. Most of us have been trained in following a set of rules and executing a set of instructions. Regardless of how successful we have been in our educational and professional life, we soon realise that the strategies we have been using so far need some serious update, if we want to keep our sanity.
But is it worth it? Does parenting really make a difference? Some seem to think most of it is set in the genes anyway, others argue that it is all about good habits. Some give up and find consolation in coffee and wine.
If we were marine iguanas things would be so much simpler: our job as parents would finish the moment we have spawned. Then again, the chances we ever got to the point of spawning would be considerably lower. The amazing sequence from Planet Earth II linked below not only teaches us something about life on our Planet, but also invites us to reflect on the role of parenting in our own household.
Marine iguanas don’t do parenting. The hatchling is born with all she needs to survive: at birth, her brain already tells her whether it is time to stay put or to run for her life, and her body is already able to follow this instructions. Humans, however, even months after birth, are not ready to run anywhere, let alone to tend to themselves. As for the brain, it comes natural to wonder whether it is giving any signal at all (it does, by the way: 700 new neural connection per second, but this is another post).
The unspeakable fragility and utter dependence of the human newborn looks like a weakness. How is it possible then that humans have spread on Earth more successfully than any other species (I might be neglecting a couple of insects or bacteria here, but you see my point)?
Humans lead pretty successful lives in Greenland’s icy tundra as well as in Namibia’s sandy desert, in large cities made of glass and steel as well as in the wildest rainforests. How do humans manage not only to survive their first weeks (and months and years), but to adapt to almost any environment on Earth and thrive in it?
It turns out that what looks like a weakness is actually our most amazing asset: Our brains are not mature at birth. This means that they can take the environment into account as they mature.
Imagine the brain was cake mix. Every child comes to the world with a different uncooked cake mix: One is the mix for a black forest cake, one for an apple pie; One is destined to become a brownie and another one has all it takes to turn into an angel cake.
Each of these different types of cake mix need a particular treatment to fulfill its deliciousness potential. If you bake a black forest cake as if it was an apple pie, you will end up with a very disapointing result. And don’t forget the oven: 200 degrees in your oven is not the same as 200 degrees in your mum’s oven. Every good baker knows this.
Now, if you consider the cake mix a methaphor for the genetic makeup of the child, the baking as a metaphor for raising the child, and the oven as a metaphor for the environment you are raising the child in, it becomes clear that parenting consists of three main tasks:
- Picking a good “oven”, a.k.a. choosing a good environment and community to raise your child in;
- Figuring out what kind of mix your child is made of, a.k.a. learning to read your child’s signals (for help in doing so, see our app);
- Treating the mix in such a way as to reach the full deliciousness potential, a.k.a. responding to your child’s signals in such a way that maximises its fulfillment.
Because each child has at least one dedicated “chef ” (a.k.a. a parent or carer) whose job is to bake her “special mix” in the best possible way (a.k.a. raise her so as to fulfill her potential in the given environment), human brains have the incredible luxury of not having to deal with survival for a long time. Young humans get fed, kept safe and clean for years and years. Meanwhile, human brains can devote their resources to picking up signals from the environment and to learning to function optimally in it.
In order to survive and thrive in their environment, some human children learn to distinguish different types of wind, some learn to pick up the quietest snake-slither sound. Some learn to watch out for cars and sit still when they are just toddlers. Some learn to express their feelings. Some learn to shut up. Some learn to ask for help. Some toughen up.
This is why humans are so much more successful than marine iguanas at adapting and thriving on Earth.
And this is why your job as parent matters. More than anything else in the world.