Somebody Just Made This Stuff Up

The big breakthrough of his life, Steve Jobs famously said, was realizing that most of the rules and conventions of life were just made up by people. People, it turns out, who were not particularly bright and certainly quite fallible. 

What does this have to do with parenting? Well first, you have to understand that this applies to most if not all of the practices of parenting. Yes, of course, there are some tried and true practices rooted in thousands of years of human experience. But most of the practices we follow as parents are not nearly so old, nor, as it turns out, are they based on particularly solid science. This has been one of the refreshing and fascinating parts of Emily Oster’s research (check out Cribsheet, Expecting Better, and Family Firm at The Painted Porch). She finds that many of the “certainties” of modern parenting are not supported by the data. Once we realize this, we can stop being so hard on ourselves and stop being bullied by the expectations or judgements of others. 

But more importantly, we have to teach our kids what Steve Jobs’ parents helped him realize. That things should be questioned. That we need not be deferential to authority—or if we trust, let’s first verify. We shouldn’t take limitations or impossibilities as gospel. In fact, all progress of the human race has come from people pushing, risking, challenging, undermining and disrupting. 

Having kids who do that might seem like a nightmare. But that’s the paradox. If you beat into your kids the ideas of obedience, of respect, of deference, of being seen and not heard, you might have a quiet home but you will ensure a complacent, miserable future. You will be depriving them and the world of so much future progress, so many breakthroughs and so much originality. 

Teach them to challenge things. Show them what it looks like by challenging your own beliefs and the beliefs and practices of your peers.  

If you haven’t read Emily Oster’s books yet, you should! You can pick up copies at Ryan’s bookshop The Painted Porch and support indie retail by picking them up online too!

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