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How Much Credit (or Blame) Should We Take for Our Children?

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The other day, one of my son's friends was over, and his mother complained to me that the child will only eat two kinds of foods. This seems to be a common thread among my kids' friends: They're picky eaters who exasperate their parents. Now, my son exasperates me for lots of other reasons—don't get me wrong. But eating his vegetables isn't one of them.

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I've never given other parents advice on how to get their kids to eat. Mostly, this is because I don't think anyone should give unsolicited parenting advice. But also, I don't necessarily think I deserve any credit. Some kids are picky eaters, right? Some aren't. It surely doesn't hurt that I cook tons of fresh vegetables, and take pains not to make them seem different from other kinds of food. However, this approach may not have worked with a different child. Why should I gloat about something that's simply luck of the draw?

I was thinking about this the other day, when my 5-year-old was being particularly difficult. Every instruction had to be repeated more than once, manners went out the window and the volume of his voice kept climbing to bullhorn levels. While he jumped around on the furniture, I sat there, dazed, wondering, "What am I doing wrong?"

Isn't it interesting that I'm so quick to take the blame when my kid does something wrong, and so reluctant to take credit when he does something right? Aren't those just two sides of the same coin?

Where did I even get this idea that I can customize my child to my specifications?

The healthiest approach, probably, would be to take neither credit nor blame for my kid's quirks. It's not like the nature-versus-nurture debate has ever been settled, but nature seems to trump nurture a whole lot of the time. Where did I even get this idea that I can customize my child to my specifications?

Then I thought back to pregnancy, when everyone was giving me laundry lists of things not to do, foods not to eat, vitamins to take. Even before I was a mother, I was told that every single tiny action I took—down to thinking negative thoughts!—could profoundly affect my child. It's no wonder that when something goes wrong down the line, moms like me look back and wonder if we should have breast-fed for longer, turned off the TV, or eaten more salmon.

Maybe this is why so many parenting discussions—specifically, the ones I try to avoid—turn competitive. When we take credit-slash-blame for everything our kids do, then we're no longer talking about the kids. We're talking about ourselves.

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And I can't help but think that's the wrong choice. We should be able to feel proud of our kids without taking all the credit, and acknowledge their problems without taking all the blame. It's not that we're powerless; it's just that they're going to be themselves, no matter what we do. The thought is both liberating and extremely scary. Scary enough to send us running back to message boards where a million anonymous moms berate each other for their co-sleeping choices, each one of them expressing her opinion with an unambiguous, comforting certainty.

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