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Parenting as a Toolbox

We like to think of parenting as a toolbox because meeting the needs of different kids in different situations require different skills. And there is usually more than one way to do it well.


But not everyone thinks like this. Sometimes parents have the view that the way they were raised or the way that they raised their children is the only truly correct way to parent. Sometimes we call this the I-turned-out-fine approach, and it has three fundamental flaws.

Maybe you are not as “fine” as you think.

Everybody’s broken in some way. We all have wounds. And the people most eager to convince you they are fine tend to be the people wounded most recently or in the worst ways.

Even if you really did turn out fine, maybe that was in spite (not because) of the way you were raised.

Having experienced something and survived it is not evidence that such an experience is good. In technical terms, this is called the anecdotal fallacy. To say that, “I’m not negatively affected (as far as I can tell), so it must be okay for everyone,” relies on a sample size of one and applies the result to the rest of the world.

Maybe kids from different situations will respond differently than you did.

And now we come to the one that really matters in our world. Children in foster care are coming to us after a set of experiences very unlike anything you or your children have ever encountered. Those experiences have taught them that the world works in a particular way.

It doesn’t work in the way that they believe—at least, it’s not supposed to—but their experience has told them it does. And they’re going to need to experience a lot of things to the contrary before they change their mind.

And those experiences have even rewired their brain, caused it to optimize self-preservation for survival. That’s going to mean they respond differently to your one approach.

How then do we parent? By adding tools to our toolbox.

Maybe the method you have mastered doesn’t work with the first foster child who arrives on your doorstep, but something different works great. It won’t be as natural for you (at first) and it might be less efficient. But it’s the thing that seems to work for that particular kid.

But the next kid after that might need something completely different. And so might the one after that. So, as you parent, as you experiment and learn, imagine yourself adding a new tool to a growing set of capabilities. None of them are going to work all of the time. But they’ll all be useful sometimes.

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