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Parenting Matters, Just Not For Your Kid

Does parenting matter? Not as much as you think

If you’re reading this article, odds are overwhelmingly good that you’re already a good enough parent. Go ahead, pat yourself on the back. You’re almost certainly doing everything you can to ensure a happy, successful future for your children.

It doesn’t matter if you co-sleep or Ferberize. It doesn’t matter if you let them free-range all over the neighborhood or helicopter them from one enrichment activity to the next. Breast vs. bottle, working moms vs those who stay home, all of it pales in comparison to the impact of two big factors: parents’ income, and parents’ (especially mother’s) education.

If you have a college education and a stable middle-class standard of living, odds are good you’re raising kids who will have those things too. Beyond that, what matters most to the outcome for your kids, researchers say, is the environment they’re raised in.

Or, as the New York Times so delicately put it in their article Who Really Cares How Yuppies Raise Their Kids:

Paradoxically, the kind of parents who follow debates about parenting — typically more affluent and educated — are those who may have the least to worry about. But there is a group for whom the debate is really important: low-income parents. Differences in parenting can matter a lot to poor, underprivileged children, and research shows that better parenting could help improve their opportunities in many ways.

Again, though, even if you’re poor and didn’t go to college, if you’re engaged enough as a parent to be reading parenting articles like this one, you’re probably doing it right.

Doing it right means giving your kids a stable routine with access to healthy meals and a good night’s sleep. It means doing those things at roughly the same time every day. It means providing consistent, healthy discipline that is neither abusively harsh nor neglectful. It probably means reading with your kids, and being conscientious about how much TV and video games they consume.

Beyond that, researchers really don’t know. Do those piano lessons pay off? Probably not, unless piano is really your child’s passion in life. Does reading to your child every day matter? Yes, probably, but they can’t articulate why or how or how much. Measuring the impact of parenting, it seems, is a murky business.

So to answer the New York Times’ question about who really cares how yuppies raise their kids: yuppies do. For the most part, educated middle-class parents care a whole lot about how they’re raising their children. They’re deeply invested in the subtle differences in outcomes for private vs. public schools, attachment parenting practices like babywearing and breastfeeding, differing discipline strategies. Parents – particularly the ones who read (and write) parenting books and articles – aren’t content to be good enough parents. They want to be the best.

That’s why we’re endlessly debating the finer points of parenting. We want to make the best possible choices for our kids. Knowing that they probably have little impact on long term outcome for the kids doesn’t stop us from caring about these details. At every turn, we’re presented with some choice that has to be made, and however slight it is, we want to make the best one.

Photo: Gracie and Viv

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