Last night I helped one of my sons do the dishes, but I didn’t help the other son clear the table. Time to reserve a shrink appointment for the table-clearer sometime around 2017?
Or perhaps an appointment with the parole board?
Turns out: No. Neither.
A brilliant study by researchers at Temple University looked at 1369 siblings between the ages of 26 and 74. The idea was to find out whether the ones who felt their parents had been harder on them than on their siblings ended up with a chip on their shoulders the size of a dishwasher. A chip that made them mad, sad and bad the rest of their lives.
Happily for all of us parents worried about the very same thing, there was no evidence that the once-resentful kids ended up less happy than their mom-loves-me-best brothers and sisters. Or, as the report put it: negative early experiences with parents over levels of discipline seem to have little influence over adult psychological well being.
This is a good little lesson to remember as we go through our days worrying about whether we are doing everything absolutely “right” as parents. We worry about saying the wrong thing, encouraging our kid too much or too little, and – when we have more than one kid – we worry that we’re not always fair.
But since it’s actually impossible to be totally fair – and in our house, my Solomonic attempts have backfired, turning my boys into niggling little nuts when it comes to whether one or the other got a milliliter more root beer, or extra nanosecond on the computer – it’s good to know that somewhere down the line, it doesn’t really matter.
I hesitate to generalize, but I have a sneaking suspicion that quite a few of our parenting decisions probably don’t matter that much down the line, either. (Organic Rice Krispies? One year of ballet or two? No MySpace account until you type 30 words per minute, which is the deal in our house?) But it’s probably true.
Try to be fair – enough. Try to be kind. But also try to remind yourself as well as them: Nobody always gets it right.
(But that’s not an excuse to avoid clearing the table.)