Parenting needs science

Why your parenting needs science

Six weeks and two days was as long as I lasted. Yes, I counted the days. I had always thought of myself as the fairly strong-minded, perseverant person. I was completely prepared for motherhood—the sleepless nights, the changes to my body, the mental and physical toll—all of it. I felt like I was walking into parenthood with eyes wide open and I was prepared. I was also, apparently, delusional, because at six weeks and two days, I broke.

Why ALL our parenting needs science

You would think it was the lack of sleep that did me in, or maybe it was the crying that didn’t make any sense, but really it was that I was sure I had “tried everything.” Basically, I felt ineffectual, and though I hate to say the words, like a failure. I think anyone can handle the actual crying and lack of sleep and potty training and tantrums and dating, but if you don’t feel like you can navigate those situations with success, then you just want to give up. I know I did.

My source of strength—beyond a stash of good chocolate, and a great set of grandparents—was science. I began to understand the science of behavior and what it could teach us and how I could rely on the things that had been learned about behavior to inform how to make better parenting decisions.

Formal definition of science: Science is the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence.

When I talk about science, I am not talking about hard concrete facts or a printed guidebook (although that would be great) as much as I am talking about the process of evaluating something purposefully and systematically. Parenting should be a scientific process of analyzing what’s working and what isn’t working and making planned and well-informed changes to get to where you want to go.

If there is ANYTHING that should be done with purpose and planning and some kind of framework, it’s parenting.

But parenting is often the last thing we apply a systematic, repeatable, reliable process toward. Why is that? Well, the parenting relationship is like none other. No one can pull your strings or push your buttons like your kids. Kids have your number, sometimes in the best possible way, but they still have an inexplicable power to create feelings and thoughts and desires and desperations that are unique to any other situation. And then you add the exhaustion—the lack of sleep, the mental load, the nights up worrying if you are doing right—and that’s the state in which you are expected to make the most important decisions for your family? Really? It’s like war crime-worthy scenarios here.

And that’s exactly why your parenting needs science—and why my parenting needs science and the reason why this website exists in the first place. We need tools that are reliable and create repeatable results and have some expectation of actually working! 

Now, one more time, for those in the back: the science of behavior doesn’t offer a guidebook…but seriously, if someone could work on that it would be great. The science of behavior offers principles, which means that they are truths that are not limited by age, location, or situation. Pssst…the takeaway is that behavioral principles work all the time not matter where you are, what you are doing, or how old your child is.

Once you learn these behavioral principles, then you have the power. You can use the second part of the definition of science to apply the behavioral principles to your parenting. A systematic approach to parenting just means that you take your knowledge, that is the knowledge of your kid + behavioral principles, and you apply it in a step-by-step fashion and evaluate the outcome.

And then, here’s the fun part! While you are evaluating the outcome, you see if you are getting to where you want to be going, and if you aren’t, you make changes. You don’t have to keep doing the same thing if you aren’t getting the results you want. That’s the definition of insanity, remember? You can evaluate, apply your knowledge, analyze the outcome, and ta-da, make changes! Even better, because you are doing this from a place that is purposeful and you are using tools that are reliable, you can have confidence in yourself.

Big sigh of relief! Who doesn’t need more confidence in their parenting? I know I did at six weeks and two days, and 10 years and two months, and especially at 16 years. Parenting through science didn’t fix all my parenting problems, for sure, but it gave me parenting confidence—and that was worth its weight in gold.

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