Which Single Parenting Decision Makes The Biggest Difference?

The article the OP mentions is from The Atlantic, I have just scanned over it at this point. but as I recall the definition of a good location involved percentage of: two parent households, college degrees, and census form returns (as a stand in for community involvement).

Here is a link to the original article. But I was more interested in alternate views since I think there are a lot of weaknesses in the argument.

As a data point, that’s me. My parents were both readers* and could not care less about sports which is me also.

*The rest of the family, not so much but we saw them only for a week or so once a year.

I will chime in and agree with everybody that said reading(repetitively if thats what it takes) and not using baby talk with kids makes a huge difference, but also with the article that says it doesn’t matter as much as genetics.
My anecdotal evidence, Vaderling. I read to him a LOT as a small child, George McDonald and Dr. Seuss were of course the two main authors he liked most. Bath tub toys were foam letters and number that would stick to the wall when wet…yadda yadda yadda.
Every single teacher from K through 5 (grade 6 when middle school starts and university style classes locally) was amazed at his language usage and how high he tested in the words he used and knew, but why couldn’t he read well? He could, he just hates reading. LOVES being read to, but read it himself? Nah, he’s got better things to do.
Thats his mom all over. He is so much his mom. I just keep hoping that I’m making subtle yet powerful long term impact on him that will counter the genetics

Also its frustrating, yet thrilling that he rejects traditional spelling of most words and just spell them how they sound.

This question is tricky for many reasons. One I’m not sure I’ve seen mentioned is how many choices are taken for granted by everyone who puts any thought into this question. That is, the parents wringing their hands over reading to their kids vs. not shoving books down their throats, and the bystanders speculating about the impact of schools or neighborhoods or genetics, are presumably taking for granted such “choices” as not getting drunk every night of your pregnancy, not abusing your children, feeding them at least enough to keep them growing normally, etc. But I bet we can agree those things matter more. So really, the question is “of those parenting choices that aren’t too obvious to mention, which one matters most?”

And then there’s the question of what you want most for your kids. Do you want them to be happy, above all? Would you sacrifice intelligence and success for that? What about raising them to be kind and empathetic, to behave with honesty and integrity? What about fostering creativity, or giving them space to learn independence and self-reliance? Some choices may foster one positive trait at the expense of another.

And then there’s the fact that not all kids thrive under identical conditions. The environment that stimulates one child can overwhelm another; the trials that strengthen one can break another; the structure that is essential to one stifles another.

My thoughts, as someone who isn’t a parent but spent six years defending them: the most important thing is to love your kids. If that’s too obvious, I’d say the most important thing is being willing and able to recognize when what you’re doing isn’t working and try something else.

I think the biggest decision is “Don’t hit your kids”. Don’t spank them for doing something wrong. Don’t slap their hand because they almost put it on a hot stove. Don’t slap their face for saying something bad.

Just don’t hit your kids. That’s the decision that makes the biggest difference.

How odd. Sitting with your baby on your lap and pointing out things in a baby book is hardly shoving books down their throats. I think the problem would be if parents who never read tell their kids that they should read without modeling it. Not a problem in either my of my kids’ families. Just the same as telling your kids to eat their (yuck) veggies.
As for success, success and happiness go together, I think. My kids have different careers, and they’d hate having the career of their sister, and they are both successful and happy.
I think the reason the number of books correlates with success is that parents with tons of books model reading and intellectual pursuits.

Stephen Pinker had covered similar ground in The Blank Slate.

Current study referenced in the article is limited by looking at one outcome only: income. And not even pegging it to local living costs.

Basic findings though are well established. Most of us as parents do a good enough job that we do not contribute all that much of a share of the variance. Peers actually do more. The decision that impacts who their peers will be has outcomes effects.

Going to a certain school or a different one may be impactful not because the education is better but because the peer influences vary.

That said I think we do teach values, by modeling them. Those don’t result in too much income differential though.

The basic point though is valid: as parents we often worry that every decision, every action we take is fraught with life changing impact on our children. The wrong choice may set them down a path to failure! And of course abuse will scar and being given $100 million gives a leg up. Reality though is that most these obsessed over choices make little difference. We will all make mistakes and our kids will generally have enough intrinsic strengths to do just fine despite us. So we really are best off worrying less and enjoying them more!

Independence. My parents hammered it into me, and I did the same to my kids. Do your own laundry, cook your own meals, clean up after yourself. Then when they’re older, start a savings account, contribute to the savings account and watch it grow as you learn financial responsibility.

Build credit and don’t have gaps between jobs. (Well, one didn’t get a job until after he graduated bc he’s autistic and needed help from the state.)

OMG.I can’t tell you how many times I described Celtling as being “in sibling prevention mode.” ROFL!

I think the second most important thing is socialization. It’s too easy in our busy lives to let their social lives fall down the priority list. Many evenings after picking her up from aftercare I desperately wanted to go home and veg, but if we passed the playground and there were kids playing, we stopped.

We made time for Girl Scouts, and soccer, and whatever else piqued her interest. Never with competition in mind, but simply to get her out with kids her own age. And we made time to visit with her friends in unstructured time as well. I made time for her friendships to form.

It would be great if we lived in the bygone days when kids wandered the neighborhood and just found each other. But that’s not how it works anymore, and parents have to make an effort to plan play dates, and then leave the kids alone and let them play.

This is a fairly common notion, but the opposite view also seems common and fairly well supported: that children handle multiple “cradle languages” well. They often show an impressive ability to sort out which is which, and to understand which adults speak which language.

The catch is that, starting at an age no greater than about 6 months, they must hear the language spoken regularly (hours per week). There is obviously something of a practical limit on the number of languages for which this can happen. But I know of two cases where the number is three, and apparently cases of 5 or 6 exist.

How about a decision for parents to be consistent. If one parent says no, the other should not say yes. If one parent punishes the child for something, the other should not disregard that.

I don’t have kids of my own, so I may not have much say in this whole discussion, but my girlfriend has two, a 12 year old and a 10 year old. Last year, she told her ex that the kids didn’t need cell phones yet. He went and bought the 10 year old one anyway, but not the 12 year old. So, my gf had to buy one for her. She’ll punish the kids for something that happened at school, or the playground, or wherever, but then they go to their father’s house, and he completely ignores her, and lets the kids do whatever they want anyway. The kids have learned to play their parents off one another to get what they want. It’s maddening.

FWIW, I told them early on that I would ALWAYS side with their mom, so they don’t even ask my permission for anything anymore. “Don’t even bother asking Yodalicious, he’s just gonna side with Mom.”

Ooooh! The situation you’ve described can definitely be bad. What I’ve done with Vaderling is, from the day his mom left, I’ve told him that the two different households would likely have some different rules and expectations, but that I would not be changing a lot of stuff. Yeah in that case consistency is vital.

Your choice of school is probably one of the main things that makes a difference - not just private vs state/public, but which actual school (assuming you have a choice where you live).

I disagree about baby talk. There are quite a few studies going back at least twenty-five years (my daughter’s 23) that back up the theory that baby talk actually aids infant language acquisition. A better name for it is “infant-directed speech” - working with your child when it comes to language, rather than trying to force anything on them.

I mean, it’s an international trait to do baby talk with babies, and there must be a reason parents do it.

Here’s one:

That’s one of the reasons I look a little askance at home schooling, the lack of finding people different than one’s family. We get at the natural history museum a lot of home school groups so it’s not like the kid is at home with mom (or dad) all day, every day, but everybody in the group is cast from the same mold.

Well, at most schools kids overwhelmingly associate with kids of the same age living in much the same area, with similar backgrounds and outlooks.

I’ve known several homeschoolers that have worked hard to broaden their kids horizons beyond what can be found at a typical school, and view this as one of the important advantages.

I learned this with my pets. I’d take my dog to the dog park and the dogs would run and bark and snarl and snap and tussle and whatnot. I was often afraid for her but learned it was best to just let them sort themselves out and only interfere if things got out of hand.

I know, humans are not dogs, but I think the same notion applies.

I agree with the “talking.” I remember the hour-years I spent w/ a kid on my hip or in a carrier as I went about my daily business nattering on about the name, color, etc of everything we encountered… :roll_eyes:

Also strong support for independence and socialization.

One that I don’t believe has been directly mentioned yet is exposing the kid to as wide a range of people/experiences as possible, and guarding against limiting them to your own circle/preferences. You don’t know what is going to click with THIS kid, so it behooves you to cast the net as widely as possible.

Many of the responses in this thread somewhat miss the point that *The Atlantic * article makes: as hard as it is for our egos to accept, most of the decisions we as parents obsess over actually do not matter much. Many of these worried over decisions are like obsessing over which tie to wear for a job interview. The decision is under our control but the decision has little impact on the outcome. I think many parents fear failing in this most important job, and that fear is generally baseless.

IMHO the most important decision we can make as parents is to try to worry less and enjoy more. You are going to talk to your babies without even thinking about it, let alone deciding to do it. Because it is fun for both of you. Fun is a wonderful guide.