Lessons Learned from 137,970 Hours of Parenting

My husband and I are big fans of Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point and Outliers. We often discuss his 10,000 hour rule with regard to our 15 years of parenting. This rule states that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field or skill.

We’ve done the math: we’ve been parenting 24 hours a day for 15.75 years, which means our grand total is approx. 137,970 hours. We’ve spread this time over five children and have learned countless lessons along the way.parenting lessons

I’m not good enough at math to figure out how many hours we had been parenting by the time our youngest was born three years ago. Needless to say we knew a thing or two before he joined our family. When I think about how I’m parenting him compared to how I parented my oldest when he was 3, there’s no doubt that I am a much better parent now than I was then. In fact, I’m so much better now that I often feel guilty about it.

Here are some of the most distinct differences:


When my oldest was 3:

I worried because he wanted to climb in bed with us every night. Even though my husband and I were generally okay with him sleeping with us (some nights we wouldn’t even know he was there) I worried we were making him co-dependent by allowing him into our bed at night.

“What’s he going to do when he’s a teenager? If we let him sleep with us now, he’ll do it forever!”

With my current 3-year-old:

At the end of the day, we’re too tired to deal with bedtime issues. Instead of battling with our youngest in the middle of the night when he wakes up, we let him crawl into bed with us. And we have proof they won’t sleep with you forever; trust me, the last place our two teenagers want to be at night is in bed with Mom and Dad.


When my oldest was 3:

I overreacted at every undesirable behavior and took it all personally. Even though I knew some ornery toddler behavior was normal, I still viewed it as a reflection of my parenting skills and felt ashamed or embarrassed, especially if he misbehaved in public.

With my current 3-year-old:

Over the years I learned that my overreactions to misbehavior were in response to the feelings of shame and inadequacy I felt as a parent. Fortunately, I’ve learned to let that shame go. I’ve gained the ability to view undesirable behavior from a neutral place. This doesn’t mean that I let my son off the hook when he misbehaves, but shifting from a reactionary discipline style to a more responsive style has made a huge difference.

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Other People’s Opinions

When my oldest was 3:

I worried that other people (and other moms) were judging my parenting choices and skills. And even I though I knew kids are all very different, I secretly compared my son to other people’s children and worried if he seemed “behind.”

With my current 3-year-old:

There’s nothing more liberating than not caring what other people think. It’s taken me years to get here, and it may sound harsh, but I honestly don’t give a crap about the secret opinions or judgmental thoughts of other moms/random strangers at the park/in the grocery store/in a play area. I am who I am, my kid is who he is, and it does not matter what you think if he throws a fit in public. I’ve also learned there’s no gold standard when it comes to kids’ growth and development. It’s a waste of time and energy to compare my kid to someone else’s, and it undermines all of things that make my kid awesome and unique.

Two Key Ingredients

What makes me a better parent now can be boiled down to two key ingredients: expectations and confidence.

  • Expectations:

Learning to adjust your expectations is one of the biggest keys to successful parenting no matter what stage you’re in. The angst I felt from the situations listed above stemmed from the expectations I placed on my life. These expectations may have come from myself, or they may have come from others. Regardless of the source, letting go of these preconceived notions represented a major shift in my parenting.

  • Confidence:

The other big component is confidence. If you follow the Malcolm Gladwell formula I cited at the beginning of this post, anyone who has been parenting for approximately one year has 8,760 hours under their belts. That’s very close to the realm of “expert.” As I consider my experience as a young mom, lack of confidence in my abilities was one of the biggest problems I faced.

parenting lessons

So take heart! If you’ve been parenting for a year or more, you know more than you think you do. Enjoy your kids and try not to let external pressures shape your perception of yourself or your parenting skills.


Meghann is the mom of 5 kids. She is a Lecturer at the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication and an Owner/Partner at Brand Driven Digital. Meghann was elected to the Coralville City Council in 2017 and is currently serving her first term. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Coralville Community Food Pantry (Vice-Chair) and on the DVIP Board of Directors. She is also a member of Johnson County's Juvenile Justice and Youth Development Policy Board. Meghann is passionate about her family, her community, and is a proud pop culture nerd.


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