What is good parenting advice?
Parenting—a simple, yet very complex topic. I have battled with numerous parents regarding this very topic. Parents maintain an extremely defensive posture with regard to their parenting skills, one of the strongest walls to break down. I quite frequently hear parents say they are “doing their very best,” and they “just can’t help what is happening.” That may be true, however, a good parent never stops learning.
When someone is hired to do a job, they need to learn what that job entails. Perhaps there is a particular job manual at their disposal. The newly employed wants to learn, wants to do a good job, get a raise down the road, move up through the company, etc. Why shouldn’t the same desire apply to parenting? In general, the parents I see in therapy resist learning how to be better parents. Getting their so called “raise” in life would be seeing their children successful and happy, success not being defined in a monetary sense, but in terms of happiness and self-fulfillment. Subsequently the sacred hoop/sacred circle would continue, with their children role-modeling to theirs the excellent parenting skills they had learned from their parents.
Our parenting skills and abilities come directly from our own parents. There is no Parenting 101 offered in high school or college. We either learn from our parents or learn from similar role models that may be living in close proximity, neighbors, uncles, aunts, grandparents, etc. Teaching optimal parenting skills is difficult, as parents tend to be grossly defensive with regard to that issue. They feel they are being attacked, ridiculed, which of course affects their self-esteem. Subsequently everyone loses in this scenario. The adult loses by refusing to learn how to become a better parent, and the child subsequently loses, as important parenting skills are not role modeled to them. The cycle of dysfunction continues.
Parents are often guilty of trying to place their children into one mold or another. This may be because parents have not reached the level of success they would like, or perhaps they simply want their children to live out their own dreams, whatever they may be. Nevertheless, an attempt is made to steer their children on one path or another, indoctrinating their views of success. Ironically, this rather obsessive style of parenting, based at least in part out of fear that their child will be a failure, which would then reflect negatively on them, ends up working in a paradoxical way. This author has seen many situations where parents have pushed academics to such a degree that the child, now a young adult, rebels, dropping out of school and never following the conventional path established by the parents. Working hard to prove their parents wrong, the young adult may then become extremely successful in other less conventional avenues of life. This appears to be an unconscious way to say, “screw you, mom and dad.” This begs the question, “Is the young adult happy?” Possibly not. The young adult may be monetarily successful, but not doing something they truly want to in life. They are forever explaining to their parents their point of view, and illustrating their accomplishments. This can go on to the 3rd, 4th and 5th decades of life!
As already stated, one of the most important goals as parents is to provide your child as much world experience as possible, both positive and negative. Offer your children many different opportunities to experience a variety of different things. If they adamantly refuse to experience one thing or another, do not force the issue. This is one of the hardest points to drive home to parents. If your teen or young adult has chosen a vocation that is not to your liking, rest assured that they will most likely be just fine–if they have something called passion. Being passionate about your life’s work not only pays back monetarily, but also creates individuals who find greater inner peace. It doesn’t matter what your child is passionate about—as long as they are passionate about something in their lives, they will be satisfied.
Parenting is an enormous privilege. It is a huge amount of work, but is greatly rewarding. My children are the best things that ever happened to me. As a privilege, it should never be abused or taken advantage of. Most of all, IT SHOULD NOT BE NEGLECTED, but reveled in, embraced, and thought about daily. You can’t go back and re-parent your 20 year old. Make the most of it when they are still young, and enjoy.
Some of my simple guidelines for better parenting, not perfect parenting, but better parenting—there is no perfect parenting:
- Recognize that you will make many mistakes, which is fine. Admit your mistakes to your child. This is an excellent way to role model to your child that you are not perfect. In the early stages of childhood, a child views his/her parents as basically “god-like,” and without reproach. If you foster this approach to childrearing, role modeling to your child that as a parent, you don’t make mistakes, your child will never learn one of the most important gifts—humility. It is okay to make mistakes, and it is important that your child recognizes it is okay.
- Listen to your child, really listen. Listen to what he/she is saying. Respond back to what has been asked. Show interest. Our time is limited on this earth. The dance we do is extremely short. Enjoy every moment you have with your child, even if it is a homework assignment or project they bring home to do, or perhaps a sunset that you may watch together.
- Do something that you may hate, that they enjoy. Find out what your child really enjoys as they grow, and make time for them, for what they like.
- Teach your children about many religions, not just the one you practice. This teaches tolerance of those different than them.
- Look in the mirror at your dark side; the baggage you carry from role modeling you received growing up. Do you stereotype, do you have racist feelings, or judge other cultures? Recognize this potential and work on change. This will take time and effort, but as a parent, it is important to overcome these old drivers in order to teach your children to be better and ultimately healthier human beings.
- Provide your children a variety of experiences. Allow them to engage in many different activities. There are many creative ways to expose your child to music, literature, the arts, science and nature, without spending a lot of money.
- DO NOT create the “super-kid.” You know the one, the child placed in swimming lessons at 6 months, music lessons at a year, or tennis lessons at 2 years of age, because you want them to be outstanding in some activity. Our society pushes our children to be super-kids. Use common sense and good judgment. Look carefully at your own issues; are you pushing your child to swim at a very early age because you can’t swim? Perhaps at a young age you experienced some event that forever created a fear of the water, and you are attempting to obtain release from your own phobia through your child by teaching him/her to swim at a very young age? Don’t project your own issues onto your child. Because you played sports well, do not project that onto your own child. They are not you. They may have different interests and abilities. Count on it.
- During the adolescent and teenage years, DON’T FORGET YOUR OWN TEENAGE YEARS. Did you smoke pot when you were a teenager, or go out and get drunk? How did your parents respond? Did you appreciate your parents’ responses? Should you modify your response to a similar situation? That doesn’t mean you don’t discipline or set limits, but it does mean that you should exercise restraint in how you respond. Hitting your child over the head with a 2 x 4 is not likely to be an effective teaching method.
- Are you able to show affection in front of your child? If you live in a two-parent home with a successful marriage, it is important that your child views open displays of affection. Look at your own issues if this is not occurring. It is totally okay to kiss and hug your wife/husband in front of your children. Where else will they learn that it is okay to show affection? It is also okay to refuse affection from time to time (“I don’t want a hug right now, I am too tired, or not in a good place”). Young children who view this behavior learn from this behavior. They will learn that it is okay to say no to affection, and also okay to hug and kiss those you love in front of others. It is important to role model appropriate displays of love and affection.
- Arguments. Parents do not always have to show a united front for their children when arguments occur. It is okay for parents to disagree and argue in front of their children. If you know that successful resolution of an argument is likely to occur, reach resolution in front of your child. They need to see that an argument can occur, and can be resolved successfully. This is hugely important in terms of your child’s development and ability to handle many situations.
- Decrease time spent watching television. Share stories. As one ages, (as discussed in elderly depression), it is time to begin telling your children your own stories. Tell your parents to share with their grandchildren stories of the past, so that these may be carried on to the next generation. Sit down, light some candles, have a fire in the fireplace, share stories of the old times. This does not have to occur nightly! But plan for it once a month. It will then be built into your family experience as an important family ritual. You will be surprised how much your children remember.