We are still early enough in the year for the glimmer of New Year’s Resolutions to be alive. These are a form of a magic formula. Through our own will power and determination, we commit to a pattern of behaviors we think will improve our lives – exercising more to keep our bodies trimmer; eating healthily to prolong our lives; aiming to be more spiritual to improve the quality of busy lives. If only we can find the magic formula, we might be able to achieve beauty, long-life, and happiness.

There is so much information at our fingertips, offering to help us find the magic formula. You can find them for every area of life; 7 ways to improve your marriage…3 top tips on being more positive…5 ways to be smarter with money…There is a new wave after another wave of ideas, promising to help us find our magic formula – and a whole load of money seems to get made with each new solution. Think about the Chicken Soup for the Soul books…Paul McKenna’s hypnotism books and videos.

Parenting seems to be an area particularly targeted by magic formulas. Perhaps it’s because it is an area of such vulnerability. We want our kids to turn out well. We worry that we’re doing a bad job. We want the guarantee of a positive outcome. If only there was some magic formula to determine this.

I tend to feel depressingly overwhelmed by all the resources, suggestions and solutions on offer to parents. I feel at a loss as to how to digest all this information and apply it to my children. They can even seem contradictory. Do my children feel encouraged by the presence of firm boundaries or suffer separation anxiety through ‘time out’ in their room? Do my children benefit from discipline centred around a reward system or does it teach them to act good only if they can get something out of it?

A current area of growth in my life is learning to know myself and my family more. We are all unique. What helps one person may not benefit someone else. This is especially true when it comes to family. Each family is a unique group made up of unique individuals – often quite diverse in their emotional make-up and personality type. There is no one magic formula that can work to transform each child or each family group. I am realizing more and more that I need to study my family and know what works for us; to be able to look at one child and understand what their individual needs are in their current season – and it might be a completely different set of needs than their sibling had during that same season. Even if the needs are the same, the way to meet them, the manner of approaching them may be completely different.

This is not easy. It isn’t neat or straightforward. It would be so much simpler to reach for the bookshelf and pull out one book that told me how to parent my children perfectly. Sadly, I suspect that it requires more effort on my part than I tend to dedicate to it. Confidence is required to be able to say, I know that this works for my family at this time and then stick to it. It’s so tempting to look at the family next to me and want to mimic the methods that they employ. Invariably, when I try and apply copycat approaches to my family it falls flat.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we never learn from the experiences of others. It doesn’t mean we never take advice from the many wise books, blogs, and articles that have been written on parenting – especially those that speak directly to our situations of raising kids overseas. However, it does mean that we adapt this advice to our own unique situation.

A friend recently gave me a parenting book that seems to attempt a different approach. The introduction even acknowledges the expectations, disappointments, and guilt that can result from parenting books that promise too much. Instead, this book takes the line of providing a toolbox of ideas. It acknowledges that different things work at different times, with different children, in different situations. I warm to this idea and it is wonderfully adaptable. It is a way that can enable me to learn from others without necessitating that I mimic them. I can observe, learn – and add it to my toolbox. I can read blogs, books, and articles, gleaning tips that work for our family and pop them into our toolbox.

Having the confidence to know who we are, experimenting with different approaches and learning from our mistakes is surely a more healthy way to be looking at our lives than searching for the unattainable holy grail of a magic formula. Attempting this is part of my resolution for 2019.