143. No Owner’s Manual

Imagine going into a store to buy something you really want. You buy it, bring it home, and when you open the box, you discover that they forgot to enclose the owner’s manual. You return to the store, as a good consumer should, but instead of being handed the owner’s manual by an embarrassed clerk, you are directed to aisle seven, the owner’s manual aisle. All of the books there seem to be the one you’re looking for. There are other customers there, some of whom have already bought several owner’s manuals for the same product. Some are discussing the pros and cons of various owner’s manuals. Some advise you about which manual to use. Others disagree. Still others say the product works better if you don’t use an owner’s manual.
I guess most of you have figured out my point – that children come without an owner’s manual. As parents, and indeed as people, we’re on our own. We can think about how our parents raised us, and use them as examples, positive, negative, or mixed. We can ask other parents what works or worked for them. We can take courses, or read books that were written by “experts.” But if we look closely, we find out that the children raised by our friends, our teachers, and the “experts” have problems, too. So do the children of the people who avoid looking for advice.
Perhaps when your child is eleven days or years old, you become aware that things seem to be going wrong. Your child is not happy, or you are not happy with your child. You consult various manuals, experts, friends, maybe your own parents. You want to know what you’re doing wrong, or have already done wrong. You didn’t have a child to create unhappiness. You’ll try anything.
If you have another child, who is doing fine, there’s your proof that it isn’t your approach that’s categorically wrong. But knowing that doesn’t really help. In fact, the knowledge, used wrong, can make it worse: “Why can’t you be like your brother?” I realize, in writing these articles, that I’m writing another owner’s manual. I’m trying to be different – to let you know, as I write, that I don’t have answers to the tough questions. But the act of writing is starting to make me feel like an expert. And as an expert, I feel a certain responsibility to share my expertise with those of you who aren’t experts. So read the next paragraph carefully. If you have worked hard, and are still working hard, to raise a happy, admirable child, and it doesn’t seem to be working, perhaps your child isn’t eating enough brown rice.

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