It’s funny how we talk about the most specific and singular thing in the world as if it’s the same for everyone. Sure, people have been having children for thousands of years, but every kid is an utterly unique piece of DNA, never before and never to be seen again. We talk about parenting as if we’re all in the same boat, going through the same things, on the same collective page about wants and needs and priorities.
Of course, this is nonsense. As the writer Elizabeth Bruenig recently wrote in a piece for the New York Times, “One of the things they don’t tell you about having babies is that you don’t ever have a baby; you have your baby, which is, to you, the ur-baby, the sum of all babies.”
We have to remember this because it affects all sorts of things. First off, much of the advice we hear about parenting is general—and therefore, potentially worthless or in dire need of adjustment to our particular circumstances. We also have to understand that as aligned as having kids should make us with our fellow parents, there are strong evolutionary forces at work. That kid in your kid’s class is somebody else’s most precious thing in the world—in fact, to them, that slobbering goober is the world. What you feel about your family, how you’d do anything for them, how nearly everything else and everyone else pales in comparison? That’s how they think of their kid too. This is a difficult, potentially explosive tension that is mostly ignored or unnoticed, but if you can understand it, it will make you more understanding. And finally, your kid is not like all kids, your kid is, as we said, utterly unique and singular. They are your kid, your creation. View them accordingly, approach each issue accordingly—forget comparison, forget average benchmarks, forget what everyone else says is normal or expected, forget how it went with your other kids. That stuff only matters generally…and of course, we have to parent specifically, individually.