A Brief History of Parenting

brief history of parenting

Written by The Mom

This post is about book #2 of my 100 book reviews.

One of our goals when we start homeschooling is to help our children learn things that otherwise might bore them by applying topics they are interested in to what we are trying to teach them.

For example, when I was younger I hated math. It bored me, which made it hard for me to focus on it, which made me assume I was bad at it. I wasn’t really, I just wasn’t interested.

One day I went to my dad and asked if he would help me build some rabbit hutches for my rabbits (I had 4 or 5 of them).

“Great idea,” he said. “But I want you to help me design the and build the hutches.”

We sat down together and drew up blueprints. We measured. We used rulers. We did math and I realized how fun it could be.

In this roundabout way I arrive at the point of this post: a book review of A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking. I’m reading through a list of 100 Books to Read Before You Die and this book was second on the list. I figured if that many people voted it onto the list it must be somewhat interesting.

It wasn’t.

Well okay, there were a few interesting points here and there. A lot of it was over my head because I was bored with the general topic.

So, naturally, I started thinking about parenting, which is a topic that I am interested in.

And, well, the rest is (a brief) history.

A Brief History of Time Parenting

Chapter 1: Our Picture of The Universe Parenting

Ideas and theories about our universe have changed throughout the history of time. Likewise with parenting. For example, we used to think that kids revolved around parents. Now we know that parents revolve around kids.

The book delves into the topic of gravity, which is the force that pulls a smaller object towards an object of larger mass (much like how a small toddler will seem drawn to you, follow you around all day, and never give you any peace or privacy). Gravity is also what you can blame when your kids fall off of their chairs and hit their heads on the floor every two seconds.

The book also explores theories of the beginning and possible end of our universe. For example, there are days when it feels like you suddenly and startlingly were thrown into the world of parenting. Other times parenting is a long, tedious journey; you can’t remember what it life was like before kids at all, let alone imagine what life will be like once they leave home.

Finally, this book explores the goal of science: to provide a single theory that describes the entire universe. Since we haven’t happened upon a theory that can sufficiently explain what goes on in a toddler’s head (let alone a teenager’s), I’m not sure this will ever be possible. But neither are scientists, so they break it up into smaller bite-sized pieces, just like parents do: one day, stage, and age at a time.

Chapter 2: Space and Time

You know that moment when your kid finally falls asleep? It’s been a 2-hour struggle, their hair sticks to their sweaty forehead, their legs and arms are sprawled about, and their face relaxes into sweet sleep. In that moment you are struck by fierce and powerful love.

This is my baby!” you think. “This peaceful, sleeping angel. This is who they really are. I love them so much!”

That is what scientists used to think about the natural state of a body or mass: it rested and moved only when driven by force or impulse. Now we know that the opposite is actually true. That sleeping angel isn’t your child’s natural state, it’s the state your child falls into when they are forced to stop moving by bedtime.

A mass or body will accelerate or change speed at a rate proportional to force. For example, the more you force your child to sit still or go to bed, the more force they will exhibit against you. A body of twice the weight will have twice the force of gravity pulling it down. This is why parents fall so heavily into bed at the end of the day and why some days simply getting out of bed and standing up takes a tremendous amount of willpower.

Another of Newton’s laws of gravity is, “The farther apart the bodies, the smaller the force.” This is why it is so important to hold your small child’s hand while crossing the street. If they are out of arm’s reach you are going to have little to no control over their actions in any given moment.

Another interesting point covered in this chapter is how space and time are dynamic quantities, not fixed. Think of life before you had kids; endless nights filled with endless hours to do whatever you wanted. Want to sleep in? Why not? You have all morning! After having kids time is altered. Nights seem short when you consider the amount of sleep you are actually getting with small children in the house. At the same time, your child can wake you up again and you look at the clock thinking, “Please let that have been at least a two-hour stretch… What? Only 25 minutes? How is that possible?”

You see how time can be tricky in this way.

Chapter 3: The Expanding Universe

This chapter talks about how the universe is expanding. We don’t know if this expansion will go on forever or not. It depends on how fast it is expanding. If the universe is expanding fast enough, it’ll be able to defy gravity and keep expanding forever (or for as long as the universe exists), like a rocket ship going fast enough to enter orbit. If the universe isn’t going fast enough, eventually gravity might start pulling it back so that it is no longer expanding but contracting. The galaxies and planets will start bouncing back towards each other like a rubber band that snaps.

As parents, we are doing our best to prepare on our children to live in this world on their own. We are teaching them the necessary survival skills. We want them to one day leave our home and lead a life of our own. On the other hand, we hope our gravitational pull is such that they will want to come back and visit (but not so strong that they’ll move back in).

Chapter 4: The Uncertainty Principle

Scientists think there should be laws that would allow us to predict everything that would happen in the universe, if only we knew the complete state of the universe at any one time. Parents are here to tell scientists that all you have to do is study a toddler to know this is impossible. If you ever think you have a toddler pinned down enough to predict what they are going to do next, or even which law is governing their behavior at any given moment, you are in for a surprise.

This brings us to the next chapter.

Chapter 5: Elementary Particles and the Forces of Nature

Children are unpredictable because of their forces of nature: the laws that govern their behavior. They aren’t as simple as they seem- they are made up of smaller and smaller bits of matter that are seemingly endless. The trick is finding out which bit is currently driving their behavior at any given moment. Hunger? Tiredness? Anger? Fear? These are some of the forces of nature that drive kids to act the way they do.

There is one force that can hold children together, occasionally: parents. With enough patience, love, and guidance, parents can hopefully hold their kids together in one piece and enable their survival.

Chapter 6: Black Holes (aka: the tantrum)

This is one of the more interesting topics in the whole book. Black holes are the deep, dark subject of many science-fiction books, movies, and ideas. They are complex and hard to understand. One of the complicated things about the black hole is we can’t view it from the inside: to do so we would have to cross the event horizon, where we would assuredly be stretched out like a noodle, torn apart, and cease to exist.

A black hole is a star that has collapsed on itself because of its own pull of gravity. You might say it’s the point a toddler reaches when life gets so overwhelming that his or her brain can no longer withstand the pressure of Big Scary Emotions.

Chapter 7: Black Holes Ain’t So Black

Technically, a black hole is actually white hot. They are emitting enormous amounts of energy at an enormous rate. A toddler tantrum isn’t all it appears to be from the outside either. It’s not as dark and scary a place as it seems. Mostly, it’s just a release of pent-up frustration and energy. Letting this emotions out can actually be beneficial.

Fortunately for us, we don’t have to understand why a toddler is throwing a tantrum. All we need to do is open our arms, sit quietly with them, and wait for them to defy the laws of nature and return to their normal state. As a parent, you can make yourself available to your child, let them know you are near, and encourage them to expel their built-up frustration and energy until it burns itself out, just like a black hole.

Chapter 8: The Origin and Fate of the Universe

We’ve already mentioned in Chapter 1 how parenting can seem sudden some days- you wonder how did I get here and why do I feel so ill-prepared for this? Other days it feels as if you’ve been parenting forever. This chapter of the book explores whether or not the universe was created with a sudden big bang, or if has gone on and will go on forever.

Scientists don’t know much about this aspect of the universe. Throughout the entire book there is a lot of theory and guesswork, and none so much as in this chapter. This, too, is a lot like parenthood. We can have our theories and ideas, but ultimately all we can do is pray and have faith that our children will grow up into happy, successful adults if we do our best.

Chapter 9: The Arrow of Time

This was another interesting chapter. There are three arrows of time as explained in the book:

  1. the thermodynamic arrow of time- This is the arrow that says that things always fall from order to disorder. This is a law that makes sense to any parent. Those diapers aren’t going to clean themselves up. The toys on the floor aren’t going to hop back into their place. Your favorite mug that your child just shattered on the floor isn’t going to rearrange itself back into a mug.
  2. the psychological arrow of time- We feel time pass. We remember the past, not the future. Time is moving in one direction. This is another very real one for parents. Hold your baby. Comfort your toddler. Go outside and play with your child. Time is moving quickly. We don’t know what the future holds, but we know we will never get these days with our babies again once they’re gone.
  3. the cosmological arrow of time- The universe is expanding rather than contracting (already mentioned above in chapter 3).

Chapter 10: Wormholes and Time Travel

At the risk of repeating myself: you can’t go back in time. We might know that wormholes exist but there aren’t wormholes in parenting. There is no magic (or scientific) way to turn the clock back. On the flip side, when parenting is difficult, remember that this is a temporary stage that will soon be in the past (and you’ll never have to go back to it again! At least, hopefully not.)

Chapter 11: The Unification of Physics

Many theories about our universe were thought to be solid science at one time, only to be turned on their heads when some new discovery is made.

Be flexible in parenting. Be open to new ideas. You might think you’re right one day until your child suddenly does something new and you realize you were wrong all along. Don’t give up; adjust the information you’ve got and keep working on it. You don’t have to be perfect as long as you keep learning.

Chapter 12: Conclusion

Parenting is a bewildering world. We look around us and wonder- Why are my kids acting this way? What is going on in their heads? Why did we become parents??

In the words of Stephen Hawking, “If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason.”


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