no credit, no blame: the tao of parenting a high-need child

A good friend of mine recently gave birth to a beautiful baby girl who seems to be at the high-need end of the spectrum for now. Hearing about her adjustment and experience reminded me of an article I wrote for a local parenting newspaper about fifteen years ago:

When I was in college, I came down firmly on the side of nurture in the nurture vs. nature debate. Tabula rasa and all that. It was so obvious . . . good parenting produced good children. Simply hold firm to a schedule and baby will adapt. Oh yes, I knew all about raising children.  Until I actually gave birth to one!

I took one look in my son's eyes and knew that this was no blank slate. He came already programmed! Within hours everything I thought I knew had been thrown out the window. Nurse every three hours? Ha! Apparently he had not read the same books I had. He thought he might take a 10 minute break after nursing constantly for three hours.

Sleep several hours at a stretch? I was lucky to get him to sleep more than 45 minutes at a time for at least the first 2 years.

What an awakening. Brutal, as I recall. Especially since most of the babies I had cared for in my home day care business had been easy-going types who just laid down and took a nap at the same time every day. I did such a good job taking care of other people's kids. I thought I was pretty competent. I had even accepted some credit for their good behavior. (yes, it is embarrassing to admit!)

Now I was faced with this kid who would only sleep in my arms and wanted to nurse all the time. Although the inclination was to blame myself somehow, it was hard to do since he was too young for me to have done much damage yet. Maybe I screwed him up in utero?

Thankfully my mom introduced me to her sanity saving motto for parenting: No credit, No blame. What our kids do is not ours to take responsibility for. It is theirs. Take no credit for their 'successes', and no blame for their 'failures'. (Quotes added because often, in hindsight, failures become successes and vice versa. Seems easier just not to label them from the start. But that's a topic for another post!)

Our kids come to us with their own agenda for their life. This does not always correspond to the one we would have selected for them. And it does not always coordinate nicely with the agenda we have for your own lives. As you can imagine, this can be a real pain sometimes!

But each of our agendas is equally valid. The dance of parenting (actually, of any relationship, I think) is to find a rhythm that honors both life paths. This can take some creative footwork! And we can only begin in earnest when we take a step back and see the other as our partner in the dance, not an enemy who must be converted to our life path at any cost.

So, can you make space for the single file path taken by your introverted child even as you travel the superhighway of the extrovert?

Can you allow time for your slow-to-warm up child to adjust even though you are an eager risk-taker?

Can you accept that your sensitive child is not just trying to irritate you when she tells you that she hates the smell of your peppermint gum?

These quirky idiosyncrasies truly do make life interesting once we give up on trying to get rid of them. There is no one right way to be. One path is not superior to all the others, and every spoke leads to the center of the wheel. The temperament of your child is not a reflection of your skill as a parent. Nothing good can come from comparing you or your child to anyone else.

Respect your child's path as your walk your own. Take good care of yourself and ask for help when you need it. Enjoy the places where your journey overlaps with that of your child and you walk together for a while.

As my favorite philosopher, Winnie-the-Pooh, says:

Rivers knows this: There is no hurry, we shall all get there someday.


I've been reading 10-10-10 by Suzy Welch, and I'm intrigued by the transformation this method for decision making could bring to parent-child discussions.

Here's the basic idea: When a decision needs to be made, you consider the potential outcome of each option in the future by looking ahead ten minutes, ten months, and ten years. The author explains that the time frames are not meant to be literal, but to represent Now, In A Little While, and Much Later.

Imagine this scenario: you want your teenager to fill out her college applications, which are due next week, and she wants to spend the weekend with her friends at a cabin in the mountains.

Instead of starting a power struggle by insisting that she cannot go, you sit down together at the kitchen table with paper and pencil, and run the decision through a 10-10-10 analysis.

If she goes, in the immediate future she'll be having fun and you'll be worrying about her deadline. In the near future, when she gets back from the trip, she'll be the one who is stressing out.

Much later, she will have recovered from staying up all night to complete her apps, but since the quality of the essays may be less than she's capable of because she was exhausted when she wrote them, she may not get into the school she wanted. Hmm, now we hit something of significance, because you both know how important it is to her to get into a prestigious university.

She's now faced with a conflict between fun in the moment, and its potential impact on something she values even more. And that's exactly where you want her attention to be -- on an INNER conflict, not on arguing with you!

10-10-10 trains the teenage brain to look farther ahead than usual. The beauty of it is that when your teen sees the potential consequences in black and white, she can take full responsibility for her decision.

It may also lead to some creative problem solving - perhaps she will decided to delay her departure until Saturday afternoon and write a few essays before she goes. Either way, it's not about you and your restrictions, it's about the consequences of her choices. And that's exactly what we as parents want to be teaching our kids to consider, right? Job well done.

Want to learn more about 10-10-10? The author's website is

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