“Kids ought to come with an owner’s manual.”
So said a friend of mine recently as we discussed our daughters’ plans for the upcoming school year. He was half joking, but also genuinely lamenting the lack of clear answers to parenting’s trickier predicaments.
I laughed and nodded. “Right,” I said, “parenting isn’t scalable.”
I’ve been stuck on this idea ever since: There is no one right way to parent; there aren’t even two or three or four.
A Distinct Lack of App
Consider, for a moment, just how striking this is. After millions of years of evolution and billions of opportunities to “iterate on the model,” as the MBAs like to say, neither nature nor culture has generated a clear program for raising a human child.
Parenting has no app. It doesn’t even have a roadmap to an app. There is no set of codified, “industry-wide” parenting best practices. No agreed-upon measures or metrics. No standard KPIs or expected ROIs or even alignment on what success would look like.
Practice Makes Imperfect
On the contrary, each parent still reinvents the wheel every time, following a process even a junior business analyst would scorn. We repeat some of what was done to us; we mimic some of what we see others do; we pick up tips and tricks from various gurus and charlatans (or, God forbid, dad bloggers); and, in the end, we mostly make it up on the fly and pray for the best.
We do this, to be clear, with nothing less on the line than the lives of the people we love most–not to mention the survival of our species.
Now, I don’t mean to suggest that the world isn’t full of parenting advice and products. It obviously is, and some of this stuff is extremely helpful. But none of it works in the manner of a truly scalable solution, an app that plugs in and consistently fixes a problem. The fact is, parents continue to struggle. Look around: the evidence is everywhere!
We Just Can’t Figure This Out
There may well be a lesson in all of this. The most important job any of us has isn’t really a job at all–at least, not in the sense of a repeatable set of processes, procedures, or tasks. Instead, it’s an art, a craft, a creative trade, an improvisational practice that operates more on feels and inclinations than on rules and instructions.
But here’s the real kicker, the head-slapper that suddenly occurred to me as I pondered the point of this post: Parenting isn’t scalable because it has already been scaled.
In her infinite wisdom, Mother Nature has devised and mass-distributed the one and only ideal solution for developing a fully fledged human being. And it isn’t an efficient, elegant program; it’s an imperfect, often messy, yet highly adaptive and caring person. It’s a Mom, a Dad, a Granny or a Pop-Pop–an Auntie or an Uncle, or someone else entirely. It’s anyone and everyone who’s willing to apprentice themselves to the art of helping others become what they can be.
When it came to parenting, what scaled wasn’t what to do, it was how to feel–including a little boggled by the trickier predicaments, but determined for the kid’s sake to find a way.
In other words, my friend, that combination of confusion and deep caring you’re feeling isn’t a design flaw. It’s a feature. Heck, it’s the reason Mother Nature hired you for this job.