Last week I took my three daughters and a young friend of ours to Dallas to audition for The X Factor, Simon Cowell's new singing competition whose winner will receive a $5 million recording contract. Friends who had previously auditioned had warned me that the girls would need to have a 15-second elevator speech ready to answer two questions: What IS the X Factor? And, do YOU have it??
After two days of talking to numerous people, none of whom got through to the second round, we concluded: Nobody but the producers have any idea what exactly the elusive X Factor is. A group of four men, all National Talent Quest winners, didn't get in. A duo of amazingly talented girls didn't get in. My girls didn't get in (she writes humbly). It left us wondering: What on earth is the X Factor if these incredibly gifted groups don't even make it past the first level?
As I stood under the Dallas sun waiting in line for two solid days, I got to thinking: Is there an X Factor in parenting? If the key to good parenting had to be summarized in one 15-second blurb, what would it be? In other words, how is it that some of the nicest people I know raise brats while others, who seem to have no real purpose or plan, raise a house full of loving and cheerful children? What is missing in the one family but naturally and invisibly present with the other? How is it that in the case of two homes with strict authoritarian parents, one will produce tight, legalistic hypocrites, while the other balanced, happy, and enjoyable kids?
The question haunts me, especially this month as I graduate my first child, Emily. Graduating is one of those milestones where it seems prudent to stop at the top of the hill-out of breath and worn out from the effort-and look back at the ground we've covered so far with our oldest daughter. Have we done a good job? Have we majored in the minors or in the majors? Have we drilled her into robotic obedience but forgotten to model grace? With five other children on her tail, reevaluation is vital. No one wants to mess up all his or her kids the same way. But that can easily happen if we keep staring down at the pavement, oblivious to the potential wreckage we're plowing into without looking.
That said, what is the X Factor of parenting? IS there even an X Factor of parenting? Eighteen years into it, I'm not sure. But if the FOX TV camera were thrust in my face and giving a meaningful response to that question meant we could move to the front of that miserable line, I might say this: I think the X Factor of parenting is building and sustaining enjoyable relationships with my children (fill in the blank with how), so that through the course of our ordinary humdrum daily life together, our hearts are tightly and irrevocably knit together.
As for the second question, I don't think any of us knows if we have the parenting X Factor or not. I tell you what, though, if you can snag ahold of it, it's worth far more than five million bucks.