I spent this past weekend learning quite a few new things. First, I moderated a Davis Parent University Lecture series panel featuring a researcher/author who’s co-written a best-selling book called “Nurtureshock“. No, it’s not a parenting manual, but it is chock full of the latest studies that show what does and doesn’t seem to work with raising and educating children.

First, I read the book. Then I listened to co-author Ashley Merryman speak (very engaging by the way) and even guided a panel discussion with local experts about how to apply her valuable information. Yet it still seems like I’m “feeling my way” through parenting – trying to figure out things as I go along. Learning by trial and error.

For example, I’ve started to re-calibrate what misguided messages I (and society) might have been sending my children. Take the myopic focus on getting great grades: I’m really trying to tell my kids that their grades are NOT what really matters, it’s how much effort they put into their studies and what they learn that’s the real point of going to school.

I asked them: “is it better to get an ‘A’ on an easy test or to take a hard test and get a lower grade but learn more in the end?”. They both ended up agreeing learning more was better, but my older son was momentarily tempted by the idea of an easier ‘A’. After all – isn’t “getting straight ‘A’s” generally considered the holy grail of achievement? Why wouldn’t that matter more?

I also learned that studies show kids often lie because they don’t want to disappoint their parents. So, I made clear to my boys they must not worry about how we might react to what they choose to share. We promise to listen. And if we don’t – but instead start reacting – I gave them permission to stop and remind us of the promise we made.

Now, I know that kids need some secrets, so some lies may be inevitable. However, I can only hope they’ll at least consider talking over some of the bigger questions they may face.

My learning continued (though in a far more self-serving way) at UC Davis – at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science. The Institute hosted an event called “Wine, Women and Chocolate”. Seriously – how could I resist? I have always wanted to experience a guided wine tasting by a true expert in their provocatively named “Sensory Theater”. This even seemed like my perfect opportunity.

So, what valuable information did I glean there? How delicate and vulnerable Zinfandel and Pinot grapes can be. That chocolate can be wildly different depending on where the beans are grown. And, despite being called 70% pure, it’s the percentage of cocoa butter in chocolate that can make one 70% bar taste wholly different from another. I also learned that I have no “nose”…or to be fair, an untrained “nose”.

Hard as I tried, I couldn’t detect any of the finer “notes” in the wine. And I did try hard. Refusing to declare defeat, I went home and tried to guess the spices and herbs in my cabinet blindfolded. My husband and son quizzed me and again I failed…miserably.

I won’t quit trying to learn. Instead, I’ve decided to start “training” my nose and make it a family game to guess the spice whenever we have the opportunity. It could end up helping us all when it comes to cooking. And, I figure if I consciously build the neural pathways, I may get better at appreciating food and wine.

I hope I’m building the right neural pathways for parenting too. Because if I don’t get those right, the consequences are a lot more serious than under-appreciation. And that’s why I will continue to keep learning, and trying.

“Persistent questioning and healthy inquisitiveness are the first requisite for acquiring learning of any kind.” – Gandhi


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