The answer may surprise you.
As a parent, are you doing enough for your child? Most likely yes, and most likely also, no. First of all, let’s just make it clear that the act of worrying about whether or not we are doing enough does absolutely nothing for our children. Zilch. And this article is not intended to increase your amount of worry. In one of my favorite Freakonomics podcast episodes ever, economist and father of four Steven Levitt takes a truly economical look at the costs and benefits of worrying as a parent. He comes to the conclusion that being a worried parent does not benefit your children in any way and may even harm them.
And, from what I’ve observed, both worry- and fear-based parenting lead to unhealthy anxiety, crippling comparisons, and lack of trust in both the child and the parent. But Johnny has memorized all fifty states and he’s only two! Sally never whines or cries! And Jenny can already skip and she’s only three! My child doesn’t measure up to Johnny, Sally or Jenny in any of these categories and it’s my fault! Literal waste of time, these thoughts are.
If you find yourself plagued by these kinds of worries, I give you permission to shift your focus. Parenthood is NOT easy, and was never intended to be, from what I can tell. In addition to the basic stresses of child-rearing in today’s world (soymilk or almond milk? Which preschool is best?), each parent is grappling with their own unique set of challenges: special needs in the family, single parenthood, working overtime, unemployment, emotional and mental illness, loneliness, legal issues, and the list goes on. We parents are a tough breed, and with some determination and research on our side, we can scare away the worry monster. He’s rude and he lies a lot anyway.
Good News First
So the good news: being a caring, informed, and engaged parent does appear to have huge benefits for kids, both immediately and for years into the future. And if you are reading this article, you are most likely already caring, informed, engaged and an all-around good parent. The kind of parent who as Maya Angelou puts it “does better when they know better.” If you learn that having daily, quality interaction with your baby from birth is linked to faster talking, better test scores, and can even pretty well predict future success, you would probably change what you’ve been doing. You might focus on talking and interacting with your child more instead of buying them special educational DVDs or toys.
The mixed-review news: it’s hard to completely banish the worry when quantifying “engagement” and the quality of that engagement isn’t easy. You’re putting forth the effort, but you are still plagued by that eternal question, is it enough? Maybe you do talk to your baby, but you don’t realize that it’s not enough. Or you don’t realize that with one little change you could greatly increase the quality and effectiveness of all your talking.
This dilemma was a driving force behind the creation of The Starling. For the first time ever, parents can track, analyze and assess the quality of the words they speak to their babies. During the short window from age zero to three, when worry would be a detriment and a threat to your child’s development, we can now keep a simple device around that will give us back the time and energy spent fretting over that eternal question. You know the one.
It’s natural to feel overwhelmed and anxious when considering all of the research, advice, and logistical problems surrounding “enough.” But if we take the best of what we find, and focus our energy on improving that—in this case talking and interacting with our kids—we could potentially find ourselves spending less time on that question, and more time on important questions like, “Goodnight Moon or The Runaway Bunny?”