When you read parenting books, it’s hard not to get the distinct sense that there is a right way to parent. That being a dad (or a mom) means following a set of processes—backed up and confirmed by research—and that to do anything else is to deviate and fail. We think the same thing about teachers too: Here is how the best teachers operate, so be like that.
But the truth is that it’s all relative. There is no right way because every child is different, every parent is different, every situation is different. Think about the story of the prodigal son—it’s a lesson about a bunch of things, but one subtle lesson there is that different kids require different treatment. The father in that story wasn’t being unfair. He was being what each of his sons needed.
Recently, we asked the author James Frey (yes, James Frey—the brilliant and controversial novelist; read Katerina or Bright Shiny Morning if you haven’t yet) what he’s learned about fatherhood, and he actually told us something pretty similar:
Being a Dad is an ongoing process of learning and adjusting and adapting. That for each kid, at each stage of that kid’s life, you have to adjust and learn. I have three kids. Two girls and a boy in the middle. Being a Dad, to me, isn’t like being a drill sergeant. There is no single way to handle each child…I don’t want them all to be the same person. They are each unique, with their own personalities and strengths and struggles. And they are radically different at different ages. And that requires me to constantly be learning how to best raise them.
It’s great advice and worth thinking about today. You have to be flexible. You have to be willing to approach each situation as a distinct set of circumstances and conditions. There is no “right way” but there is always a “right thing” to do in each situation.
Adjust until you find it.