The Parent-Conditioning Effect


It seems on daily basis I’m reminded of how much my kids have conditioned me.

I’ve read quite a few parenting books, but I’ve never come across the Parent-Conditioning Effect.

The parenting books focus on how we are to guide and respond to our kids, but not on how they change us.

There are many valuable books out there, with helpful guidelines and techniques.  However, I have to chuckle at the books that say, if Johnny does A, then respond with B, and Johnny will react with C.

Everything usually goes by the book with A and B, but unless little Johnny lives his life straight off the pages of a textbook, good luck seeing a predictable C response.

In my experience, I did have the luck of glimpsing a C response, but, I’ve also received an X, and on another day, Q. That Q is a toughy, still trying to figure out how to handle that one. But, as soon as I do, Z will be the reaction of the day.

This multitude of reactions was very hard on me at first. I had to go through a bootcamp of sorts to get this uptight, textbook child idea out of my head. I have to hand it to my kids…they had a tough job ahead of them, but they went at it full force to relieve me of my delusions.

First, my beautiful twin girls decided to leave their comfy place in my tummy early and had a 2 1/2 week stay in the hospital. After they came home, they both had colic, trouble eating and sleeping.  As hard as this diligent, baby book reading mom followed the rules, the twins each had their own way of following, or breaking, them.

My mom came to our home frequently to help my husband and I with the twins.  She and I read the parenting book and followed the book’s routine of eat, play, sleep. When it was time for sleep, we carefully swaddled the little ones, and laid them down in their crib.

Ahhh, time for my mom and I to enjoy a much needed cup of coffee.


That sound drives daggers into a new mom’s heart.  Still, I knew, especially being preemies, how important the girls’ sleep was. So, my mom and I waited the recommended amount of time before going in to soothe them.

One of the girls had fallen asleep, just like the book said she would. The other was wide awake and very unhappy. Even with all her crying, her sister lay unfazed, sleeping peacefully.

I soothed my upset girl, and once she was comfortable, laid her back in bed. Finally, she slept.

I swear twins are born with an inner sense of each other’s clockwork, because as soon as one was asleep, her sister was up crying. This back and forth went on for days. My mom and I were following the book by the letter, keeping the twin’s eating and play times in perfect sync, but they continued to sleep and wake at different times.

In sleep-deprived desperation, I went to reference the book again, in hopes of  finding anything I could have overlooked. I could not find the book and asked my mom if she knew where it was. My mom replied, “If you find that book, burn it!”

We decided to go rogue. My mom called her fellow grandma friends who had helped with their grandtwins. Gotta love grandmas, they come from the parenting school of “whatever works.”

One grandma had a miracle solution:  put the twin’s car seats in their crib, and buckle them in.

We were desperate enough to try it, and the twins slept 6 hours straight! They are almost 8 years old now, and I remember that success like it was yesterday.

After this new mom adventure, I realized that though parenting books are helpful in a lot of ways, my kids are not textbook children. Even with the same guidance and direction, each child is going to respond in their own individual way.

This lesson was very valuable when their brother, Wil, was born 19 months later.  Wil has Down syndrome, and has some cognitive and physical delays. I have read many books on Down syndrome which have been extremely helpful in providing for his care. Yet, as with his sisters, Wil does not live off the pages of a textbook.

In the developmental milestone books, they state that children learn the skill of walking before they have the ability to put one foot directly in front of the other. Tell that to Wil, as he stealthy put one foot in front of the other on a balance beam, with only my hand holding his as support, before he learned to walk.

I like to think of the Parent-Conditioning Effect like the conditioning done in exercise. It is painful at first, but we get stronger and more confident as we go, and even though there are general exercises that work for all, we learn which exercises work best for our individual needs.

And just like in exercise, no matter how fit we are, there are some days we feel stronger than others.

Ahh, but that is the beauty of not being a textbook mom with textbook kids. We have good days and bad days, we learn from them, have some more, and learn some more.  So, while I am thankful to all the books for their wisdom and guidance, real life is still my most valuable teacher.

All the best,



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