Parenting is the hardest job I have ever had. It never stops, and I seldom think I’m doing a good job at it.
That’s why it can be comforting to see ‘scientific studies’ indicate that it doesn’t really matter how you parent, in the long-run. The trouble is, as this article shows, that’s not actually true.
We can’t experimentally reassign children to different parents — we’re not monsters, and please don’t call to offer us your teenager — but sometimes real life does that anyway. Here’s an example: some Korean adoptees were assigned to American adopters by a queueing system which was essentially random. So there was no correlation between adoptees’ and parents’ genes. Yet, adoptees assigned to better educated families became significantly better educated themselves. Adopters made a difference in other ways too: for instance, mothers who drank were about 20% more likely to have an adoptive child who drank. This can’t be genetics. It must be something about the environment these parents provided. Other adoption studies reach similar conclusions.
More evidence comes from the grim events of death and divorce. If your parent dies while you are very young, you end up less like that parent, in terms of education, than otherwise. Again, that can’t be genetics. And children of parents who divorce become more like the parent they stay with. In other words, when parents spend time with their children, their behaviours and values rub off.
The bottom line is this: how much and what you say to your child from their first few days literally carves new paths in their brain. We know this from research on speech development. When mothers responded to their babies’ cues with the most basic vocalisations, they accelerated their children’s language development. So go ahead and babble along with your toddler.