Take a guess…
What’s the most frequently asked question from parents, whether on huge online communities or in daily life?
It’s “Am I doing X right?”, with X standing for any parenting dilemma they have to face. I’m sure you will find it familiar, too.
From a baby’s first years, most of us already have 1,750 tough decisions to make. This is calculated by a recent survey from the formula brand Enfamil, looking at data from 2,000 parents with an infant. The decisions include choosing a name for the newborn, whether or not to breastfeed the baby, figuring out how to sleep-train the baby, and whether to share pictures of the baby on Facebook.
And that’s just the first year.
Unfortunately, there’s no manual or required training on how to make parental decisions. Thus, parents are stuck with thousands of questions spinning in their heads. The struggle may worsen in the misinformation age when a quick search yields conflicting answers to any question.
But, here is a truth: Almost none of the choices you make impact your child’s life as much as you think they do. If you are the kind of parent who always stresses out about the consequences of choosing wrong, just sit back, relax, and read until the end – JobAndEdu will reveal the one parenting decision that really matters!
Nature VS. Nurture: How Much Do Parents Matter?
Uri Friedman, the managing editor at the Atlantic Council, once said: “Parents in every culture, at any given moment, think they have to do the optimal thing for their children.”
And we all hold on to it. Aside from oxygen, food, and water, parenting is what injects life into a child. The way we raise him can shape his entire future. Love really matters. That’s our deep-rooted belief.
However, according to science, parenting is not everything. In fact, two factors contribute to a child’s growth and development: Nature and nurture.
The fact that correlation doesn’t always indicate causation makes it challenging to determine parental impact. For instance, children whose parents frequently read to them tend to perform better at school. But these children don’t only receive books – they also inherit their parents’ DNA. Are they drawn to books because they were trained to? Is it because of their genetics? Is it nature or nurture?
Genes play a huge role in how a kid turns out. You can see it from the story of James Arthur Springer and James Edward Lewis, the pair of identical twins who spent 39 years apart. Despite growing up separately, they both have the same height and weight, a habit of biting nails, and tension headaches. The two shared many interests, including block lettering, carpentry, and mechanical drawing. Even their drinking and smoking patterns are the same.
If Springer and Lewis never reunited, they would probably assume that their upbringing had shaped who they were. Nonetheless, it seems that those traits were hardwired into their DNA.
Then, how much influence can parents have on their children? We can get to the bottom of this question only by randomly assigning kids to different parents and observing how they become.
A research was conducted by Holt International – a nonprofit organization that helps families across the U.S adopt thousands of children from other countries. Since the adoption process was random, scientists might look into the genetically unrelated kids who were raised under one roof: The more significant the parental impact, the greater the chance these adopted siblings would end up alike.
The result was surprising: Their upbringings didn’t have much impact on how that kid became. Adopted siblings were only a bit more similar than those kids who were raised apart. “The adoptees always, at birth, resemble their biological parents, not their adopted parents,” the study concluded.
Another study by the anthropologist Robert LeVine points out that parental nurture does affect a child’s behavioral patterns and habits. However, this doesn’t change the children from their cores. The effects of nurturing are unstable, idiosyncratic, and unsystematic – in a word, random.
“What we believe to be systematic effects, like the correlations between upbringing and a kid’s development, are actually reflections of genetic impact. Amidst the tumult of daily life, parents mostly react to genetically-driven differences in their kids. We read to the one who loves stories. We go along with their aptitudes and appetites,” he wrote.
The study is included in LeVine’s best-selling book “Do Parents Matter?”.
The One Parenting Decision That Really Matters, According To Research
So, well, parenting doesn’t matter as much as you think.
While this might sound deflating – even devastating – for many parents, it also invites them to wind down and loosen up. It’s stressful being a parent if you believe you should take all responsibility for how the kid turns out.
The point isn’t to raise some kind of parental nihilism like, “I could make scented slime with little Samantha tonight, or I could not. Why do the choices I make matter?”. Instead, it’s to encourage parents to be more open-minded when making decisions since each of your choices will yield different outcomes for each kid.
However, evidence suggests that one decision might be essential, and it’s a decision most parenting experts and childrearing books often overlook.
In 1996, Hillary Clinton, former United States’ first lady, wrote: “It Takes A Village.” Just as the title suggests, the book presents Hillary’s vision for the children of America and explains how the people around them significantly impact their development.
For the next two decades, no one could confirm this theory. It wasn’t until 2018 that Harvard’s Raj Chetty began digging deeper into the question. He examined the IRS’ anonymous data on practically an entire generation of American taxpayers.
From there, Chetty and his team were able to create a link between where people grew up as children and their incomes as adults. Their research focused on siblings whose families moved during their childhood. For example, we have a family with two girls, Joanna and Bailey. When Joanna was 12 and Bailey was 6, the family moved from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Let’s say you think San Francisco is a better place to raise a child. In this case, Bailey, who spent more time in San Francisco than Joanna, is expected to perform better in the future.
The theory was proven true for many pairs of siblings in the data. Since it’s assumable that siblings with the same parents will have similar genetic capabilities, we can tell that where they live is the reason behind any persistent differences in achievement.
When you multiply these differences over an entire universe of taxpayers and use some math, you can determine each city’s value in America. The results demonstrate that children benefit more from living in some major metropolitan areas. They receive better education and have higher rates of pay. The best cities on the list, which can boost a kid’s future earnings by as much as 12, are Minneapolis, Seattle, Pennsylvania, and Salt Lake City.
However, picking a big city to live in is not the one parenting decision that really matters. Neighborhoods do play a role, too. Chetty’s work also highlights the importance of living in a community with positive role models: Adults who are well-educated, accomplished, involved in society, and committed to stable family lives. This factor has a significant impact on a child’s success.
How Do Parents React To This Theory?
Right after it was published and promoted in “The Atlantic”, Raj Chetty’s research drew mixed opinions from the public.
Many American parents agree that the theory is thought-provoking and intuitively makes sense. “Data may be liberating. While it can’t decide for us, it can give us a glimpse of which decisions are the most important. When it comes to parenting, this data suggests we, moms and dads, be more considerate about the neighbors we surround our children with – and worry less about everything else,” said Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, data scientist, economist, and author.
However, for some parents, other than future income, the research fails to cover other aspects of raising a good child.
“This might be useful if all I care about for my children is their eventual SES (socioeconomic status). Frankly, though, that’s not the biggest concern I have about my children’s future. Perhaps I’m speaking from a relatively privileged point of view, but my parents went through bankruptcy when I was a kid. While a higher SES is associated with better health and happiness generally, it’s always seemed a bit reductive to measure success by it”, Redditor knilock noted.
In the same thread, other users also agree that Chetty focuses too much on the “economic” side and forgets about other things contributing to a kid’s great value. According to r/veerKg_CSS_Geologist, “since he’s an economist, his problem is how he believes he can explain everything economically”. Using income as a factor to determine success can be straightforward and all, but human life is not all about net worth. Parents also want their children to grow up healthy and happy, and that’s where economists struggle.
So Where You Live Is Indeed Important, But It’s Not The Only Thing
So it’s true that you don’t have to freak out about every choice you make since only a few of them will have a lasting impact on your child. Aside from neighborhoods, though, real-life moms and dads would like to add some crucial decisions you should make to raise a fulfilled, successful kid:
“Be Good To Ourselves And Enjoy Life” – Grace de Rond
Grace de Rond – relationship coach and mother of a girl – thinks that one of the most essential choices you can make for your kids is to be good to yourself and show them that you are enjoying life. That’s a thing we sometimes forget to do as parents.
“When we go out there, enjoying a job, a hobby, or a friend, and return home with fulfillment and excitement, it encourages our kids to go out and explore the abundant world,” she explains. And Grace has a point: Even in an area deemed “good for kid”, children living with adults who tend to dwell on the negativity and perceive the world as a frightening place may end up having the same perspective. That already makes for a disadvantageous starting point.
While “being positive” sounds like a personality trait, it can, in fact, be a momentous decision. Painting a vision of a world that’s adventurous and full of opportunities, even when things get messy – that’s an important choice to make as parents.
“Let Your Kid Try New Activities” – Amanda Murphy
For Amanda Murphy, the best-selling author of “Fixing Kate”, the smarter way to make decisions about kids is to encourage them to try new activities.
Her idea is that children won’t know what they will love unless their parents expose them to various activities. It’s best to do that when they are younger so when they’ve grown up, they’ve already found the path.
The key is never to force new things but to encourage them. For example, if your 7-year-old boy suddenly says he wants to try out a particular instrument, let him. You wouldn’t know if any of those activities will turn out to be a long-term pursuit if you don’t at least let them try.
“Teach Your Kid Social Skills” – Rachel Gillett And Rachel Premack
Last but not least, a precious piece of parental advice from Rachel Gillett and Rachel Premack – a pair of reporters from New Zealand – is that you should teach your kid social skills at a young age.
Regardless of each child’s personality, they will benefit from social skills. With these, they can expand their circle, establish positive relationships, interact with people around them, cooperate, share, and play with others. By socializing effectively, children will get the most out of their community.
A Liberating Message For Parents Out There
I hope this comes as a liberating message, one that frees moms and dads from the pressure that they are entirely responsible for a child’s future. Inherited genes might account for most psychological traits – personality, mental health, cognitive abilities and disabilities, and so on.
Still, it doesn’t mean the end of parenting. Instead of trying to shape children in our ideal image and bearing all the guilt piled on us by how-to parenting guides, we can give them a good environment.
“A good environment” is not just the city where you live – it should be one that encourages your children to find out what they like to do and what they excel at. You can contribute to that positive environment. To me, that’s the one parenting decision that really matters.
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