Not a reference to my preferred style of parenting, rather a realisation of just how careful you have to be when bringing up children.
Chaos theory at its simplest, as we all know, says that very small changes can instigate very big effects. The proverbial example is the butterfly whose flapping wings move a spoonful of air molecules which then nudge other air molecules and eventually leads to a hurricane (although, personally, I think an avalanche is a better example).
In parenting this idea applies to the endless things you say to your children or do in view of or with them. You may think they’re not watching; you may think they’re not interested; you may think they don’t understand; but in our house it’s far from uncommon for a seemingly insignificant event that happened days or weeks ago to return to haunt you.
I have no idea where this stuff comes from or how it lodges in their minds.
Millie will suddenly ask why the hero of Gremlins 2 sprayed them with water when he knew it would make more gremlins. More disconcertingly, she’ll suddenly ask how Uncle Trev died and why. Then, I’ll hear her repeat verbatim something I said weeks ago or imitate a gesture of mine or the Lovely Melanie’s. Amber will ask me to draw Mr Misty on the bus window, even when it’s been months since she read that story.
And what you realise is that almost everything you do is studied by your children and teaches them something. You can spend as much time as you like patiently explaining things to them, but that one time when you’re tired and sleepy and plop them down in front of Gremlins 2 – that will be the lesson they remember.
It makes you alternate between paranoia and fatalism in bringing up your children. Paranoid because you want to watch yourself every second, always try to be the best role model you can – always be patient and kind and calm and prepared to explain – because everything you do matters.
Fatalistic because you quickly come to realise that no parent is that perfect – and even if they were then children meet other human beings who teach them completely different lessons, so nothing you do matters.
So what do you do?
In the end I think the answer, as with most questions in parenting, is simply to do your best. Don’t treat them as you believe they should be treated but treat them as you would like to be treated (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” as I believe Jesus put it).
Because we don’t own our children, as someone (I forget who) once said, we merely get to look after them for a while. We can’t make them into something they’re not, only guide them as they try to discover what they are.
And who knows what the difference the slightest flap of your parenting wings might make…