How Raising Babies and Making Banana Pudding are Similar (and how they are decidedly not).

On the Fourth we went to over to Kate and Tim's for a BBQ. There was great food, a generous bar, and a collection of fun and fascinating people. I brought my no-fail banana pudding and added it to the dessert table. As a guest brought a spoonful to their mouth, they looked up.

        Did you make this?

       Taste it. If you like it, I made it. If you don’t, it wasn’t me. (Wink.)

Clearly, I’m confident in my banana pudding skills. There’s so little to mess up: no cooking, no separating, no blanching.  If it doesn’t come out right - one of the ingredients must have been off. It certainly wasn’t me.

With parenting, however, I take the opposite approach. If something’s off with my kids - it must have been me. Something I did or didn’t do, support I didn't provide, wrong direction given. 

I take all of the blame and none of the credit.

Banana pudding and babies are similar - they’re made from good stuff: cookies, cream and bananas in one, pure hearts, innocence and sweetness in the other - what could go wrong?

Of course, babies aren’t bananas, so that’s different. Here are three more ways in which they differ:

1. The Recipe: Making banana pudding is easy and easily agreed upon. (Here’s the Magnolia Bakery recipe so you can try it out yourself. Or a relatively simple Paleo one, if you prefer.)

But when it comes to raising kids, the expert advice differs greatly. Not just from one generation to the next, but from one kid to the next (like using time-outs with my first child that morphed into time-ins by the time my third was born). Even if you’ve figured out what works for you and your child, there are so many opportunities to question (almost) every choice you ever made.

Did I make them too anxious? Did I push them too hard or not hard enough? Was I too tolerant or overly impatient? Did I over-think it? (I think we all know the answer to that one.)

The best you can do is tune out the noise, tune into yourself and trust that you will figure it out. Which sounds good in theory, if only we weren’t so aware of the risk. Which brings me to my next point.

2.  The Risk:  Whereas the information on child-rearing is ever-changing the data on parenting is pretty consistent: it matters. We can significantly improve the trajectory of our children’s lives. Which means that we can also f*** them up. Heck, I don’t need an expert to tell me that. Everything I learned in therapy indicates that my wounds came from my early years of childhood (and that my parents’ wounds came from theirs).

Which brings me to a new round of questions: What if I’ve inflicted these same wounds on my kids? Worse yet - what if I haven’t? After all, my resourcefulness, resilience and drive came from my somewhat scrappy childhood. Did I deprive them of the fire in the belly that drove me to success? Is there a way to instill the fire without the (s)crap?

None of these issues come up when making banana pudding, of course. It’s frickin' banana pudding, who cares if it doesn’t turn out? Which brings us to the third differential.

3. The Result.  When I dip that serving spoon into my dish, I know what I want to see: a thick pudding with a silky smooth texture. But what result am I looking for with my kids? I want to say that I am just enjoying the journey (and I am), but I can feel that I am also waiting for some outcome, some measure of the work that I did.  Is it how their careers turn out? Is it who they pick as their partners? Is it whether they end up having kids themselves? Is it how happy they are? Is it the relationship that we have as adults?

How will I measure any of this? What will I deem as good or bad? I don't know. I guess I'll find out soon enough. Really, really different than making banana pudding, though. What was I thinking?

To be fair, there are ways to mess up banana pudding: you can overwhip the cream, have a runny custard, let it sit for too long. It works best when you use a light hand, wait patiently while it firms up, and remove promptly from the fridge before the bananas begin to brown.

Maybe that's true for kids as well -- use a light hand, be patient while they learn, and prepare them to launch so they’re ready to go when the time is right.

Maybe. I don't know. I guess I'll find out soon enough.