Though I don’t have your experience or knowledge, I always tried to stress to patients the concept of “good enough” parenting. The Atlantic article confirms the value of that.
First, I read the title as Which Single Parenting Decision Makes the Biggest Difference, and was going to think about how co-parenting with a divorced former spouse should be done or if one should get a divorce . . .
OK, back on track. I suppose it may be seen as fighting the hypothetical, but I think the biggest “parenting decisions” aren’t about parenting, but about the parents’ lives.
What is are your goals, work habits, attitudes towards education yourself, hobbies, and character? How hard do you work to overcome difficulties in your life, as we all have them? How do you handle your emotions such as angry, frustration, motivation or lack thereof?
What partner do you have kids with? Someone you respect? Get along with? Or, fight and undercut them? Do you share common values? Do you try to live those values? How do you treat them?
For many reasons, some beyond our control, many people get divorced or break up. Do you put the child’s interests above your anger and work together?
Third, how invested are you with your child or children? Very involved? Somewhat? Not in their lives?
As someone who is both a parent and and now an educator, I see these things as several orders of magnitude larger in importance over many of the things most parents fret over. Children with stable, supporting parents do much, much better in school.
None of us are perfect, of course, and the idea of “good enough” parenting was very liberating for me. It does take a lot for parents to not be “good enough” such as my abusive family of origin. I don’t think most parents need to worry about that.
I think one of the most important things parents can do is do good modeling of adult behavior. Then make decisions about all the other things, but don’t fret them so much.
I am now teaching kindergarten at a bilingual school for Taiwanese children. It would be preschool age in the States. They start off at four and turn five during the year. The kids are learning to read, and start off with most of them know most of their alphabet but not able to read yet. Now, about 3/4 of the way through the school year, most can read a number of simple words.
Some kids are just more interested in school than other. Some kids with older siblings who did well, according to their teachers, don’t do well. Others do better. I presume that the parents are generally the same with all their kids, but the kids react much better.
Have you known that smug parent of a perfect child who then has a second one who isn’t so good? Worse, are the ones who have two children for whatever reason who do turn out well, and then they think they are much better than they are, but just happened to be lucky.
I think we, as parents and / or teachers, overestimate our skills. However, one thing which does seem to make a difference is giving the children attention and showing interest. I’m not a researcher, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the advantages children show from being talked to a lot or read to daily is more from the attention than the actual words.
It’s all from anecdotal evidence, but it’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
I think the biggest single decision is whether to send the kid away to school.
I am reminded of a photo I took of my wife and kids, ages 3, 8, and 10 on a couch. All four are peering into a book. But the 3 year old’s is upside down.