As the understanding of the problems created by peak oil are rising exponentially, there are a number of other peaks that have made their collective way in to our consciousness, peak money, peak phosphorus, peak coal to name but a few.

All these peaks imply a head on collision with hard limits but not much has been mentioned about another very important peak, the peak of our current parenting practices. What will this peak mean to parents struggling with the usual parenting issues? Will the inevitable slide down the other side of Hubbert’s oil curve, help parents or hinder them?

Firstly, what do I mean by a peak parenting practice and have we actually reached as close as we’re going to get to the parenting peak? Hasn’t parenting always been much the same, marked more by instinct than anything else? I would have to say until the 1960’s, that was a fair bet. However, since then our society has been marked by an ever-increasing amount of complexity introduced at record speed, which in turn, has changed the world that most parents find themselves in.

This parenting world is no longer black and white. Even shades of grey would be hard pressed to describe the enormous amounts of differing directions for parents of the early 21st century. The complexity in the parenting world amounts to thousands of voices all shouting for totally different things. Just for fun, I entered parenting in to Google search and came up with 78,800,000 responses. Then there are the different types of parenting that define your personal parenting style. There’s Connected Parenting, Attachment Parenting, Traditional Parenting, Aware Parenting, Positive Parenting, Gentle Parenting, Plant Parenting, Confident Parenting, Permissive Parenting, Effective Parenting, Democratic Parenting to name just a selection.

Of course, like anything, parenting is driven by the market place, which in turn, is driven by energy. If you place a requirement to be different as part of achieving success in that marketplace, then it follows that the more ‘different’ that a message can be made, the more money can be made from the enterprise. This may or may not be conscious but it does mean that common sense becomes the loser. After all, it’s very hard to sell the obvious.

The parenting style you choose then extends to owning special products that define your style. Natural parents want slings to hold baby close to the body and are likely to prefer natural care products. Traditional parents may spurn the family bed for a crib and the traditional idea of a nursery. None of this is any surprise. For every choice that becomes available, the job of parenting becomes harder and more difficult to negotiate successfully. In a situation where every choice defines you, it increases the chance that every decision you make becomes fraught with potential anxiety.

Choice for all its wonders is perhaps one of the one of the most negative additions to a life born of surplus energy. Indeed in his book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, author Barry Schwartz informs us that too much choice can result in both anxiety and regret and can lead to decision-making paralysis.

Children need effective parents and effectiveness needs confidence. How can you feel confident in a decision when every decision you make has the potential to derail your personal parenting style and its possible result? Suddenly, everything that goes wrong is magnified. Every tantrum is a signal that adjustments are needed and as the parents adjust, the child is left swinging in a wind buffeted by frequent indecision.

I liken the effect of living in a family fraught with indecision as being stuck behind an indecisive driver. As adults, we all know how annoying that is. The person in front of you speeds up and slows down indiscriminately. You have no idea of their next move and as a result, you feel uncomfortable. You cannot anticipate their actions but you can and frequently do, speed up and move beyond them, thereby solving the problem.

A child however, is stuck and just as the discomfort created by indecision bothers an adult, so it does the child. Children are not in a position to articulate their discomfort. They will know something is wrong but they have no idea what it is. As a result, they will show their discomfort through their behavior with tantrums, increasing demands and other trying behaviors.

Let’s take a look at how all this might play out with a problem common among many parents, the family mealtime. Mealtimes are often fraught with difficulties. Picky eaters commonly eat within very limited parameters driving every one around them crazy. Mom and dad often trying to bend to their child’s increasingly extreme desires, find themselves stressed out trying to negotiate every forkful. They try one approach and then another. The child sees the mealtime as a mechanism to extract an increasingly bizarre set of wants and the list of what they won’t put in their mouth grows ever larger. The mealtime, instead of being a happy event and a chance for the family to connect, turns in to a nightmare.

So what has indecision got to do with mealtimes and how might it affect subsequent mealtime behavior?

Well firstly, mom and dad have been conditioned to believe in our complex society that if some choice is good, more must be better. Suddenly, everything needs to come with a choice. And every choice has the potential to create anxiety. From an adult’s perspective, the concept of offering all that choice is clear and seems to have no downside. After all, with that choice available why should parents provide dinner on a plate without enquiry as to their child’s wants and desires for that specific day? It’s so easy. However, a child has no idea of all the other factors that govern a choice of meal, no idea of nutrition level, no concept of your budget, the time available to make the meal, the availability of different kinds of foods and so forth.

Choice, being a learned concept needs to be very limited when first offered and well within a child’s ability to handle. In order to make the choice the child must be aware and understand the parameters a parent would use to decide. If they are not at that ability level, being handed the decision looks to the child as though the parent cannot make up their mind and has abdicated the position of authority. This is the hallmark of indecisiveness with the parent as the constantly lurching driver taking responsibility one moment and rejecting it at the next.

Parents often feel that the way that parenting issues are handled around the table is simply a reflection of their own personal parenting style. Surely these issues aren’t connected to anything else and couldn’t possibly contribute to behavior?

Oh, but they do. What if their ‘style’ was not really about choice but more a manifestation of the amount of energy available to them and what if their parenting style that was once defined by being able to offer tons of choice, suddenly lurched in the other direction? At one point, it won’t be practical to ask their children what they want and parents are increasingly going to revert to the same old, same old of generations past, a plain "here’s your dinner".

So what will the kids do? In situations where parents are running a personal café will the kids understand the increasing pressure they’re under and just buckle down to the new reality or will they ramp up their behavior to get them to revert to old habits? Will those picky eaters now decide to be non-picky without complaint? How this question plays out is invariably based on what kind of relationship people have with their children.

As we contemplate a post-peak life it’s worth asking do your children run you or do you run them? In other words, who in your family holds the authority? If the answer is that the children are used to calling the shots, parenting a child could become increasingly difficult just at the point in time when other pressures are at their most magnified. Loss of income, foreclosure, loss of a job are in and of themselves enough to deal with and don’t need to be exacerbated by the stress of behavior issues amongst the kids.

Preparation for post-peak living usually encompasses a range of measures, like food storage, or making the required financial decisions. Yet an examination of how your family works is no less important and is often forgotten. As we learn to deal with the reality of less effective government and the withdrawal of social services, what we’re going to be left with is the family. It’s important to make sure it’s working the best it can and that family members are in a position to help not hinder a family’s personal transition.