IN MY years as a father, I've learned one simple truth: Parenting never gets easier. And if anybody tells you it does, he has a troubled relationship with reality.
If your life coach says there's a surefire parenting method, tell her she's wrong. Then ask, "What the heck is a life coach?" If your doctor says the Spock method is certain to work, he must mean Spock from "Star Trek." There are no earthly parenting guarantees. In fact, if you inject the average parent with truth serum, he will tell you every parent's deepest secret: We mostly make up parenting on the fly. After all, we don't really have a choice.
While our cars come with 3-inch thick instruction manuals, our kids arrive buck naked and broke. Our challenge? Feed and clothe our children until we can teach them to fend for themselves.
But parents not only have to be good at teaching. We also have to be good at learning. Otherwise, we keep making the same mistakes.
The first thing we learn as parents is that our kids are sort of like us. Only, they don't behave the way we think we did as kids. They behave the way we actually did.
If, for example, you remember yourself as a kid who told only little white lies, your kids tend to jog your memory by resurrecting your habit of telling whoppers. If you remember yourself as a neat freak, your kid's pigsty of a room - complete with dirty clothes under the bed - is a reminder of your true teenage nastiness.
But don't lose hope. Help is available. It doesn't come on the Oprah Winfrey Network. It's not available from Dear Abby. It's not on the shelf at your doctor's office. There's only one place to find it.
That's why, when I'm stuck on a parenting question, I go to a higher authority. I read through the Good Book of Child-Rearing. When I'm stumped I go back to four letters that tell me all I need to know:
WWCD - What Would Carolyn Do?
My mother was the greatest parent I've ever known. I thought she knew everything. So much so that I would routinely quote obscure facts and turn to my mother with the words, "Right, Ma?"
It didn't matter if it was Einstein's Theory of Relativity or Newton's Three Laws of Motion. If my mom could confirm it, it had to be true. When I look back now, I realize that she was just nodding and smiling as I babbled, the same way I do with Eve.
But my mom's nod meant everything to me. Her anger? Well, that was another story.
My mom used four basic tools to express her displeasure. The first was guilt. The second was shame. The third was embarrassment. The fourth was time travel, as in, "Boy, if you don't stop playing with me, I'm gonna knock you into next week!"
We've employed each of her methods with our children, and for the most part, they've worked.
When Eve was little and slathered her bed, the walls and herself with a jar of Vaseline, LaVeta yelled at her, thus shaming Eve into avoiding a repeat performance. Me? I simply closed my eyes, thought back to my mother's stories of my own Vaseline adventures. Then I asked myself, "What Would Carolyn Do?"
And that's what we did. We treated the greasy stains with White Cap, threw the sheets into the washing machine and looked on the bright side. At least Eve's love of Vaseline would assure her a lifetime of moisturized skin.
Of course, there were other adventures, too, like the time my oldest daughter, Adrianne, refused to do her work in high school. I asked myself, "What Would Carolyn Do?" Then I reached into my mother's bag of tricks and took out a huge canister of embarrassment.
The next thing my daughter knew, I was sitting in her history class as the students snickered and her teacher fought to contain a smile. At that moment, my daughter knew she had a choice. Either do your work, or face an involuntary bout of time travel, as in, "I'm gonna knock you into next week."
When the kids fake an illness to get a day off from school, I ask, "What Would Carolyn Do?" Then, with all the fire of an itinerant preacher, I recite the Book of Carolyn, Verse 1, which reads: "If I have to leave this house to go to work, you have to leave this house to go to school! Now get up!"
Yep, Carolyn's lessons have served me well over the years. My mother and I still laugh about them, but my kids definitely do not.
Solomon Jones is the author of 10 books, including his latest novel, The Dead Man's Wife (Minotaur Books), and the humor collection Daddy's Home: A Memoir of Fatherhood and Laughter. The married father of three has been featured on NPR and CNN, and has written on parenting for Essence and other publications. He created the literacy program Words on the Street. His column appears Tuesdays. More at Solomonjones.com.