When I found out my new job would involve the Caribbean, my first step was to pull up Amazon to find books on the region’s history and politics. Two years ago I was supposed to go to Japan to work as a political-military planner, and I read at least half a dozen books on East Asia security issues. All for a ten-day exercise. This week I even bought a reference book for Windows Office 2010 after realizing that my Microsoft skills are not quite up to the level I need to work efficiently as a staff officer.
I mention all of this because the other day it dawned on me that since I became a father, I have not read a single parenting book. Of course, I read “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” before my daughter was born. And I will occasionally thumb through my wife’s parenting magazines. But beyond that, I have sadly made little effort to educate myself as a father.
This bothers me. Raising my children is the most important thing I will ever do in my life. So why haven’t I conducted at least the same level of preparation that I would for a six month deployment? I came up with a handful of semi-plausible but ultimately insufficient justifications:
My wife is the parenting expert in our team. She worked as a nanny and ran a day-care center before we were married. She has read as many books on parenting as I have read about airplanes. Other mothers often seek her out for advice and recommendations. But this shouldn’t excuse my ignorance. Sure, it often makes sense for a couple to divide up household responsibilities based on knowledge and expertise: I change the oil in the car, and she tells me why my shirt doesn’t match my pants. But when it comes to raising our children, it’s a team effort.
Parenting is primarily instinctive. Children are unique, developing at their own pace with their own personality. No book could possibly capture all the nuances of our family’s situation. There is some definite truth here, but leadership is also primarily instinctive, and yet I read countless books and articles on that topic in the hopes of gleaning new insights. I should approach parenting the same way.
Parenting books often provide contradictory advice. Of course they do. So do the books I have bought on financial management, auto maintenance, and religion. Oliver Wendell Holmes said he valued “the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” Only after considering all the relevant facts, reading from a variety of experts and thinking critically can we reach our own solid and straightforward conclusions. This applies to every subject one might ever hope to master.
A friend of mine once told me, “Parenting is easy. You turned out fine. So just do what your parents did and your kids will be fine too.” I completely agree with the last two sentences of that statement. The fault lies in the first, which assumes the ease that I might replicate my parents’ efforts. Parenting is tough, and I need all the help I can get. I just downloaded “Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters” by Margaret Meeker on the advice of a good friend. A good first step, I think.