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Parenting: Let's Hear it for Experience

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MoMo Productions via Getty Images
MoMo Productions via Getty Images

A recent article in The Times (London, not NY), "The 12 deadly sins of middle-class parenting,' deemed me a "childcare expert" -- causing several people to ask me, rather pointedly, who did I think I was to tell other people how to bring up their children?

Fair question. I'm certainly no "expert." That was the newspaper's word, not mine.

But I am experienced, and have come to believe that, when it comes to parenting, experience can be beyond price. After all, it is slowly and painstakingly acquired, with plenty of mistakes along the way, and takes the long view, rather than responding to every fad and anxiety of the moment.

In the past, new parents tended to rely on parents and grandparents to help steer them on their way. Now, as life hurtles forward, parents often seem to think that no one who was around before the iPad era can have a clue about the amazing, breath-taking challenge that is bringing up children today.

As a result, although 'Mommy' websites proliferate, chewing over problems in every tiny detail, wisdom and perspective often seem thin on the ground.

The reason I write books about how children can flourish is that I don't want all that I've seen, heard and learned to go to waste. I also know my knowledge springs from a variety of valuable sources:

  • I've spent more than 30 years working as a national newspaper education writer and columnist -- visiting classrooms, lecture halls and nurseries, interviewing everyone from education ministers to classroom assistants, following educational research, and watching education policies come and go (and come again).
  • I've spent nearly as long bringing up my own two girls and a boy, and then watching them and their peers and classmates move out into the adult world.
  • I've acquired an international perspective, bringing up my children both here in the U.S. and in the UK, living on four continents and traveling to many countries in the course of my work.

As a result, my experience is both wide and deep. I've eaten school lunch at Eton and also under a thorn tree in rural Tanzania. I've knelt down and played with kindergarteners from Berkeley and Barcelona. I've heard the hopes and dreams of young teens from all corners of the globe, and watched thousands of children in a way very few parents get to see them -- in their own natural habitat of school. And I've spent weeks and months studying the research that shows us what most helps children live and learn well.

I've also watched myself do so many things wrong with my own children, and have come to see how easy it is as a parent to get fixated on the urgent, everyday things -- reading ages, friendship squabbles, math groups -- that don't matter a jot to them in adult life, while failing to find time to foster the important skills and values -- resilience, courage, gratitude -- that do.

So experience isn't knowing best. It isn't being the expert. A child's parents are the only experts that child can ever have.

But it is deep. It is wise. It's humble. And it's thoughtful. So let's hear it for experience. Often, it's the wisest thing we've got.