Parenting lessons learned in 2010

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


  1. Jen. says

    Happy New Year! I hope you do write about this past year homeschooling; am interested in your perspective.


  2. Roz says

    When I read this post, I realize that I am the Mom of a singularly amazing woman and mother. You continue to make me and Dad very proud indeed. Happy New Year!


  3. Elisabeth says

    Brilliant post – well said, and well lived :)

    As a professional educator who myself experienced public, private, and home schooling throughout my education, I know how challenging it can be to move from one to the other, and especially the opposition (often passive) you face moving to home schooling. However, I couldn’t agree with you more – despite the very best efforts of experts, sometimes the parents are the only experts who can make a lasting difference for their kids – you are THE expert in your own child!

    We have a 19-month-old son, and plan to continue home schooling him (as I believe it’s already begun!) when he reaches school age. There is such a wealth of quality support and so many options for home school families these days that we feel it to be the best possible educational option for our son (and any future kids).

    And I’m so glad for that idea of do-overs! Even when we’re trying our best to do the right thing in every parenting situation, we still screw up sometimes – thank God kids are so forgiving and resilient on the whole!

    Thanks for sharing your struggles and triumphs and thoughts on it all. Happy New Year, and may 2011 be full of even more victories and happy memories.

  4. says

    Thank you so much, Elisabeth. You totally get it! We had a short stint in a private school, too.

    The funny thing I have found about parenting so far is that, yes, I know my kid best, but it doesn’t always *feel* that way. Usually when we Know something (Know with a capital K), we feel some inner stability about it. In my case, Knowing my kid often feels like knowing nothing, because he is so totally different from me. The Knowing is very subtle, and I have to really quiet my internal self to be able to hear it, because the rest of me is flailing my arms yelling “what the hell is going on?!”

    Whoever coined the phrase “small, still voice” wasn’t kidding. It has taken me a long time to learn to hear that voice, let alone trust it.

  5. says

    What a beautiful post. So well phrased.
    Thank you for sharing, and I wish you continued success with home-schooling.
    Happy New Year!

  6. says

    Asha, I love this list! I also love how you said that parenting kids as they get older gets both easier and more complicated. That’s a really great way to put it, I think.

    I can appreciate, too, how you noted that each of the systems held caring people and how trusting your gut was key. In other words, you know, THE WHOLE LIST. lol.

  7. says

    I like the sentiment of always learning, correcting, adapting.

    I’m frequently amazed when I strongly, passionately believe something and then a year later, a month later, a week later — I believe the exact opposite.

    Happy New Year.

  8. says

    It takes humility to admit that, I think. But it’s the only way to proceed, because the picture gets so much bigger as they grow. It’s one thing to stick to one’s values, but another to stubbornly hold onto ideals that just don’t apply.

  9. says

    I never, EVER thought I’d be “one of those people” who homeschool. I mean, after all, they’re CRAZY!

    Well…here we are…6 years in to homeschooling and never looking back. Among the best decisions I’ve made in my adult life.

    Best of luck for another fabulous year with your favorite student!