Friday, January 2, 2009

My Children, My Lab Rats...

Yes, you read that right, lab rats. Of course, I say that in a loving way. Before you start “tsk, tsking” me, you should know I think your children are lab rats too. All children are.

Explanation time...

My vision of science is that it is a continual process of experiments, hypothesis’, trial and error all in an effort to find the TRUTH. A very informal explanation of the scientific method is to begin with a question in mind. Form a hypothesis, and then do an experiment to see if your hypothesis was correct. Today in a moment of “mom guilt” I realized that’s was parenting is …an on-going experiment and my darling children are my unfortunate, but naively willing lab rats.

It begins the day a woman finds out she is pregnant. The mental processing (read: guessing) begins. Obstetrician, family doctor or midwife? What do I eat? Then the baby comes and more questions. Which kind of diapers should I use? Breastfeeding or bottle feeding? Crib or family bed? And so it begins. The parent-scientist forms a hypothesis about each of these questions, acts upon it and thus the scientific experiment, er…parenting experience begins.

If I were actually a scientist working with lab rats, it seems that I would get better with my hypothesis as the years go by. Parenting is not that simple. After all rats have a limited capability in what they can do, but children are ever growing and changing. The older they get the more complicated the questions (read: experiments) become. Should what age should they date, should they have a cell phone, what to do if they break the rules. Some of these experiments go well leaving parents glowing with pride in their children and in their parenting skills. Other experiments leave parents wondering if maybe they should have stuck with a dog or cat instead of trying this parenting thing.

Failure is an inevitable outcome. Scientists expect it and simply try to learn from their mistakes. Parents try to learn from their mistakes too, but their stakes are much higher. That’s where the mom guilt comes in. Guilt is something moms do well.

Which leads me to today’s lesson. I was pondering on an “experiment” that I felt had failed and you guessed it, feeling guilty for my error. Then it hit me that while I did not receive the expected outcome (my hypothesis was off the mark), there were some other positive outcomes that I had not considered. I think this is an area that scientists have an advantage on us parents, they are more likely to see and rejoice in the unexpected outcomes.

Truth and children are similar in the ways that they elude our efforts to define them. Truth is easy to define you say, but ponder that for a moment. Killing is wrong. Simple truth, right? And yet, what if you are defending yourself, your family, or your country? Then killing can at times be necessary. This is what I mean that the truth escapes our efforts to define it. Children also can escape our efforts to define and shape them. But if we are willing to be like scientists and learn from the unexpected, our experiences and our children can teach us new “truths” and joys that we had not anticipated along the way.

Which makes me see that as a parent, sometimes I am the Scientist and sometimes I am the lab rat. If so, it is a glorious path to the cheese.

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