How To Be a Pretty OK Parent in five steps (or so)
Most (though not all) people who decide to embark on the awesome journey called “parenthood” have good intentions to be the most perfect parent possible. I almost hate to burst the bubble for some of you, but I am going to anyway: good luck with perfect parenting. It just ain’t going to happen.
There are tons of books and magazines out there to inform, inspire and educate parents on the “best child-raising techniques.” There are college classes on child psychology, child development, etc., that one can take to help further one’s education on how to raise children in the “most perfect” way possible. I highly recommend checking them out, for suggestions, though maybe not necessarily with an eye towards achieving the unattainable “perfection” as a parent. Of course, though persistent pursuit of becoming better is always a good thing, striving for “perfectionism” (and who defines what is “perfect” anyway?) can lead to frustration, anxiety/depression and feelings of failure.
As some (many?) of you have, I’ve read some of the books, articles and taken college classes on child development. I believe one of the best teachers is, indeed, experience (as my parents/people of their generation were always saying). I survived having been raised by “old school” parents (non touchy-feely, no emphasis on self esteem and instead on stern discipline, and so on) and have observed other parents throughout my life. And I can only conclude what I said in the first paragraph: there are no perfect parents/magical parenting techniques. But I think there a a lot of “Pretty ok” parents. And that is something worth pursuing.
Why are there no perfect parents? Because there is no such thing as a perfect person. Pretty simple.
Given this conclusion, I think that instead of people obsessing over being “the best” at child raising, one might decide to shoot for what I mentioned above, that being “Pretty ok” parenting. We all adopt our styles of rearing kids from how we were raised — not to mention the writings of or lecture by the “experts” — and mix it all together to use in the families we create. To be a “Pretty ok” parent, one can cherry-pick from one’s experiences, observations of other parents, informational readings, and Aunt Ginny’s advice and then form one’s own version/philosophy of child raising.
This is what I did — and heck, maybe what most of us parents do — and it has worked as well as I expected. My son is a fairly competent adult who hit the ground running and has the drive to “go places”. He breaks all the ridiculous (and unfair) stereotypes of Millenials and I couldn’t be prouder of him. And I’ll be the first to admit I’m neither perfect nor do I know everything. (Though I AM pretty ok and know just enough to be dangerous, as the saying goes).
That being said, I would like to share a few ideas that have guided me on my parenthood journey, some do’s and don’t’s that could give aspiring (and current) parents an “aha!!” moment or two on becoming Pretty OK.
- Praise, praise, praise. Don’t just praise everything and anything, make the praise specific to the task: “Great job washing the dishes/the cat/the car/on writing that great term paper/I like how you’ve cleaned and rearranged your room,” etc. I have read that it takes 10 positive statements to overcome one negative one. People who have a negative mindset/worldview will probably pass that on to their children unless they do some hard personal work to try to avoid doing so. I recommend doing this work, if necessary, though therapy (such as cognitive hehavioral therapy, for example). We could use a lot more positive, uplifting people in this world, rather than negative, downtrodden and often angry “downers.” Maybe there would be less suicide in 12-year-olds and fewer mass school shooting. Just a thought.
- If you need to correct a child, be very mindful of how you frame your “constructive criticism.” Remember that children have feelings too and those feelings should be acknowledged and accepted. Sometimes the child will need to be corrected; I suggest learning positive phrases and ways to convey those “constructive criticisms” so they don’t sound like a personal attack on the child. Trust me, telling a kid “You are always such a slob!” is most likely quite hurtful to the kid and what you expect from your child (such as slobbiness) is probably what you’ll get from him/her.
- Having said that, don’t go around expecting “the other shoe to drop.” In other words, having negative expectations of your child(ren). It is no fun knowing that your parents are just waiting for you to mess up/make a “stupid” decision/take a “wrong” turn down the road of life …. and then when you fulfill your parents’ prophecy (expectations) and do just that, you know they will give you hell with probably all kinds of unkind words and threats. I’m just saying; that sucks. Don’t do it to your kids. Expect good behavior out of them. Teach them good old fashioned manners, model kindness, and show consideration for others. Clearly and kindly communicate your expectations. Praise good choices/actions. Adopt a mindset that “my kid will be/do just fine” and he/she just might do so, because children often live up to their parents’ expectations …. whether those are positive or negative.
- Realize that, as a long-ago popular saying went, it does indeed “take a village to raise a child.” Everyone in a child’s life is an influence in one way or another. Since I’ve been a single parent for more than 18 years, I acknowledge that various family members have contributed greatly to my son’s development and to the wonderful young man he has become (so I can’t take all the credit). Other people in your “village” will give advice on being a “perfect parent.” I don’t recommend just blindly following the “helpful advice” that everyone shares. Sift though their words (including mine), take what you think will work, and throw out what doesn’t feel right to you. Yes, I know this requires a great deal of thinking but thinking and using one’s head is a GOOD thing and I highly recommend it. Being a human robot= NOT a good thing.
- Attention must be paid. This is very important and I can’t stress it enough. A child requires a LOT of attention and anybody who isn’t “able” or willing to give the attention the child(ren) need probably should not be parents. Or they would be wise to wait until such time that they ARE ready to focus their attention on raising their young. I say this because too many people today are dealing with attention deficit disorder (either diagnosed or not) which can greatly and adversely impact a person’s life. Our society is basically an ADD society in which this is a widespread, general condition (therefore the popularity of all those stupid “reality” shows: because people are starving for attention). Those not prepared to focus on their kids — for example, people overly focused on their careers or who are enmeshed with addiction issues— might be wise to seriously rethink the idea of having kids until they are “in a better place.” It seems to me that a stable/secure home setting, one with parents who are attentive and want to actually DO things with them (preferable outside, getting exercise, and making memories) would be a pretty good environment for child raising.
- Oh and parents, please put DOWN the electronic devices. Your e-mails, texts, social media garbage, that can all wait. Your kids can’t. Trust me, they grow up way too fast.
- Support fellow parents, either in your “village” or not. Encourage the mom whose toddler having a meltdown in the store, rather than grumbling about her presumed parental abilities or lack thereof. I remember being in a local store once where one little girl just wouldn’t quit crying. I talked to her and made her laugh and she was ok after that. Two women who were presumable her mom and grandma praised me for my actions. It wasn’t magic; I simply paid attention to the girl, who was probably bored/hungry/frustrated that her caretakers weren’t paying her attention. Unfortunately in this day and age, with people going around being all scared of each other (“stranger danger”), I have to be aware of how I am interacting, and also be aware that my attention might not be welcome by some parental figures. I can usually figure them out.
As I said before, I’m not perfect — far from it. My son isn’t perfect, though he IS a pretty ok, helpful, kind, law-abiding person. I’ve had the help of my “village” (his other relatives) and have sought advice and read stuff to put together my own outline of parenting that I think is Pretty OK. And because I want to be a bright light in this world who encourages other people to be better, I wanted to share some of my thoughts. Because raising kids is a VERY important job that lasts a lifetime, people need all the (preferably positive) help they can get. Hopefully I’ve given my readers at least some ideas, food for thought. Hey, it’s OK to be Pretty ok!!