I’ve been sick the last week with a pretty severe cold… and what I realize is that I am married to a very good man. Basically, there were like 3-4 days when I was just sleeping in bed for most of the time that I would normally have been doing child care and cogsci-husband just took care of everything. Kids were fed, played with, bathed, slept. What a dreamboat!
And I realize, although sickness is not one of the conditions that fosters good parenting, a good marriage probably is one of the important supports that underlie good parenting. My theory is this: the conditions that foster good parenting probably contribute to overall marriage bandwidth.
Bandwidth (which I’m stealing directly from the book Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much by Sendhil Mullainathan, and Eldar Shafir) is a classic idea from cognitive science that says basically you have a limited amount of cognitive resources (space, energies, etc) that you bring to a task. If you are using up your bandwidth worrying about a test, you won’t do as well on the test because you are using up some of your bandwidth on ideas that you are not being tested on. That’s why writing out anxieties before a test helps people do better on a test. You’re relieving some of that bandwidth by dumping out those thoughts on paper.
This brings me back to my theory: you need a lot of bandwidth to be a “good parent.” After all, when a 3-year-old is arguing with you about how he “already went pee” (he is talking about how he went pee YESTERDAY), it is difficult to seriously think of ways to help him understand that he needs to pee on a regular basis or else he will wet his pants. In my more sick and less patient moments, I just want to drag him to the toilet instead of patiently explaining to him how the process of generating pee works and why he needs to actively prevent accidents.
Having a great partner gives your family unit like twice the amount of bandwidth! After all, I may be DONE, wiped out, ready to give up… but then cogsci-husband can swoop in with a remedy, distraction, or both! Cogsci-husband might be near the end of his rope, but then I can come in with a little more rope!
And all this just reminds me of some advice a friend gave us when we started having kids… invest in a house cleaner. This will be good upfront investment and will save you the pain of having to pay for marriage counseling if you have troubles later on! PLUS a professionally cleaned house to boot! But here’s why I think this works — part of your bandwidth is taken up by information/activities that come with keeping a house relatively sanitary. When you get your house cleaned, that bandwidth gets freed up! And you can use that to act in a more loving way to your spouse, kids, clients, etc.
So my (highly simplistic) theory goes something like this: these services and external resources contribute to your overall bandwidth. Having more bandwidth leads to good parenting. A good marriage also contributes to good bandwidth (and although this is not depicted in the model) the flow goes in the other direction as well, a lot of bandwidth also contributes to a better marriage. And good bandwidth contributes to a whole host of other things besides good parenting (e.g., better mental health, better work, etc) which then feeds back upon this system.
Of course I’m leaving out a lot of basic things like values (how does a person decide to want to be loving anyway), information, character, etc. And I don’t mean to insinuate that bandwidth is the only thing that contributes to good marriage/parenting. And these inputs (i.e., good marriage, cleaning services, money) are not requirements towards good parenting. This theory is really about factors that could (but do not necessarily) contribute the logistical odds and ends of a family’s life.
But anyway all this started because I’m just really thankful to my dear hubby for increasing the bandwidth in my life. And I’m thankful to our cleaning ladies.
By the way, our church friends have this great cleaning service. Check’em out! Increase your bandwidth! Mariella’s Friends
**UPDATE: Big thanks to David Landy for peer reviewing this blog post and providing an update to the bandwidth model.