Science. Cookery. Or Food Tech as it is now called. Two core school subjects that are analogues in painting the picture of modern-day parenting.
Science is about experiments. You normally know the outcome before the test but need the evidence before being too forthright. When something happens, or needs to happen with the children, you need to be clear on the outcome and generally speaking, the interventions needed. Unlike science, parenting is clearly not binary. There is rarely an absolute right or wrong. Black or white. Parenting operates in the shadows – in that vast area of grey.
Looking at my 13-year old’s homework for science, if you follow the formula you can pretty well predict the outcome. From experience, the results from parenting are much more volatile and not necessarily within a standard margin of error.
And cookery. You know the ingredients, you follow the recipe and the end product should be sure-fire. But often the cake has not risen, the Yorkshire pudding is dough and the rabbits would struggle to gnaw their way through the steamed carrots. The taste is not necessarily what you would hope or expect.
Last week my 13-year old was set the task of making nuggets. In this Covid-19 world they are not made at school, but at home. They are not taken into school for the teacher to try, but for parents to delight. The evidence of homework completed is now a photo sent on email.
As I closed my eyes and became the official tester, I told her that I could see and sense the Golden Arches right before me! There was a lack of breadcrumbs and the chicken was a bit pink but otherwise she could be running a franchise from our very home!
So, what does that teach us parents? I have tried the bohemian approach and going with the flow. I have also tried the more instructive approach on the basis you will be grateful in the coming years. I have landed on somewhere in grey – a large landmass which gives me room to operate and manoeuvre given the set of circumstances in front of me.
Rather than school subjects perhaps the better analogy is fruit machines. From my childhood, and summers playing Jackpot in Southend arcades, it is more about push, hold and nudge. You always think you can beat the system. You crane your neck to see what is next in determining whether to use your one or two nudges, or to cut your losses and cash out. Very rarely do you hit the jackpot.
And this is where parenting is different. For me, it is more akin to geography; exploring the vast terrain and everyday finding something different which mostly makes you smile but sometimes makes you grimace. With four children (teenager, 8 year-old and 16 month old twins) my geography is their first words, a hug (as somebody with no arms having someone wrap their arms around you is special), a good school report or simply achieving something new for which they are proud.
As a parent, life is one big equation.
The answer: 2a + b + c = Jackpot.
13 October 2020