I don't like personality tests. I don't know if Myers-Briggs would label me an ISFP or an ESTJ or a TGIF. Nor do I want to know. I'm suspicious of attempts to reduce complex concepts or topics - much less a person - into bite-size descriptions, devoid of nuance.
One of the biggest arguments I ever had with my wife, Kate, was over a website. It was toward the end of college, and though we weren't yet engaged, we were knowingly headed in that direction. Many question marks still loomed, though, particularly regarding where we would begin our post-college life as a couple. Kate loved the idea of a site that could, after processing the results of a brief survey, provide a list of cities best suited to your likes and dislikes.
I, however, did not love the idea. I found the concept of a stupid website's stupid algorithms playing any role in my future location offensive. It was admittedly a little ridiculous to get worked up over it, but I nonetheless refused to participate. By the end of the debate, I had broken a set of car keys after launching them across the parking lot.
Needless to say, I have never taken a BuzzFeed quiz to determine which character I am from Saved by the Bell. It's only after much consternation and trepidation that I reluctantly publish an annual list of my favorite albums. And when it comes to parenting, I refuse to read the "10 Scientific Tips for Raising Happy Kids" or "5 Ways to Raise a Grateful Child" or - get this - "How to Raise a Child: 23 Steps (with Pictures)." The intro for that last one states, "If you want to know how to raise a child, follow these steps." Sigh.
If there's one thing I've learned from seven years of parenting, it's that family life is full of variation and nuance. Even within one family unit, the pace and character of life changes drastically as kids move from one stage to the next. The ways in which one parents necessarily varies from year to year, family to family, child to child.
While there's certainly value in gleaning wisdom from other parents who have been through similar experiences, there are no shortcuts. Twitter offers hundreds of accounts with some variation of "Life Hacks" in the handle, as if life is something we have the power to short-circuit. Family life and parenting can't be hacked.
So much of my own parenting is unfortunately dependent not on my kids but on everything else life invokes. For example, if the basement floods and the carpet has to be ripped up and furniture is now displaced throughout the house, then the potential solutions to these problems will occupy much of my brain space. A predicament like that will inevitably affect the way I parent - particularly my time, focus and patience.
Not long ago, I had an early breakfast meeting that required me to leave the house before the kids awoke. It was dark. I was tired, grumpy. But two hours later, I returned home caffeinated, fed and fully awake. In that state of mind, my kids were magically transformed from loud, needy obstacles into hilarious, wide-eyed munchkins. If a dad ever asks me for my best parenting hack, I'll just tell him to keep his blood-sugar level up and to stay adequately caffeinated. Everything else will fall into place as you attempt to love your kids in all the disparate ways they require.
-Joel Oliphint is a freelance writer who, in the spirit of full disclosure, has written for BuzzFeed.