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What's Going On In There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life
- By Lise Eliot, Ph.D


How do I Know if I'm being a Good Parent?

By Ken Edelston

How do I know if I am being a "good" parent?

Often I hear parents expressing concern that their children are not adequately prepared for life as an adult. Accompanying these worries is an almost unbearable amount of self criticism in relation to their parenting competency. These concerns are similar to one another, but come in many shades. Here are a few that I have heard, either as a counselor or in some other situation. As you read down this list, I would suggest that you consider the following questions. Listen to your thoughts. Do you view the list as having nothing to do with you? Do you find yourself criticizing the author of the list? Do you breathe a sigh of relief, as you read an item and realize it isn't relevant to you? Do you feel a tightening as you realize that the item is relevant to you? 

There are no right and wrong answers. Rather, this kind of monitoring of your own thinking and feelings may help you know your own defenses, your fears, and your sense of inadequacy. I am not interested in having you feel inadequate- actually, just the opposite. I want you to realize that your feelings and thoughts are, for the most part, shared by all parents. Most of us are quite competent parents; it is our collective fear that we are not competent or good parents that gets us in trouble. In addition, I would suggest that you read the list through and only then, return to reread and mentally check off the items with which you can identify. Note: these are not in any particular order. 

Common Parental Concerns 

- My child is not performing up to his potential in school. 

- My child does not know the value of money. 

- My child doesn't know how to plan ahead. 

- My child has terrible study habits. 

- I am worried that my child is using alcohol or other drugs. 

- I am not sure about my child's friends. 

- I think my child is very secretive. I wish she would be more open. 

- My child acts one way with me and a totally different way with her mother/father (divorced parents) 

- My child is never grateful for all the things he has. I never had a fraction of what my child has. 

- My child resents babysitting for his brother/sister. I'm not asking for much. Why the attitude? 

- My child acts like she is mad at me all the time. I don't know what to do. 

- Punishment doesn't seem to work. He keeps behaving badly, no matter what I do. 

- If my child doesn't do well in school, she will ruin her chances of success. 

- My child is very talented, but he will not do anything to develop that talent. 

- My child doesn't do much with the family, and has quite an attitude when she does join for family events. 

- My child doesn't seem to appreciate the values he has been brought up with. 

- My child lies to me. I don't know what to do. I want to trust her. 

- My child talks back to me, and I don't know how to respond. It usually gets worse if I say something. 

- My child has a fit if things don't go his way. 

- I protect my child from the world, because she will have to deal with it later. I want her to have a happy childhood. 

- All I want is for my child to be happy, and he seems so miserable. 

A common theme of these concerns is the thought that we are not doing an adequate job of parenting. Many of us grew up with tension, verbal or physical violence, intellectual abuse, and other serious forms of abuse. When we became parents, we made vows to ourselves that our children would not be subjected to abuse of any kind. Beyond that, many of us thought and still think that if we are doing a good job as parents, our children will not have to experience pain in the forms of anxiety, shame, fears, loneliness, sadness, chronic irritation, or distress of some other kind. 

Trying to create a "happy" childhood for our children is bound to fail. Childhood is a time of vitality for children who live in the midst of loving parents, material security, a loving community, a creative and loving school, and unfettered accessibility to developmentally appropriate activities and creative outlets. Even with the above circumstances, your child will experience loss- not every once in a while, but constantly. And, please realize that the above ideal setting is not and cannot be present in our modern societies. No matter how hard we try, there will always be inequities in wealth, educational opportunities, the ability to love, the valuing of children in our communities, and so on. Trying to create the "ideal" upbringing causes its own set of irresolvable problems and dilemmas. 

Your child will experience physical pain, as he goes through everyday life or experiments with new ideas, like riding a bike with no hands. Your child will experience pain in her social relationships. Others will be "mean". He will be mean. Friendships will end. Frustration at not being able to do things well may or may not be a problem for your child. Not only is there no way that you can protect your child from pain, the intent to avoid pain is guaranteed to backfire. Of course, it is important and it is a parent's duty to make caring decisions for a child to ensure their survival and their opportunity to prosper. But this duty changes constantly as the child matures. Making sure your child dresses warmly is appropriate for a young child, but not appropriate for a teen. Sitting with a 10 year old as they do homework is fine. Sitting with your 17 year old to make sure they are doing their homework is bound to produce mixed results. And even with the best of parenting, there is little if any way that a parent can keep a child from getting sick or dying. 

So, how do I know whether or not I am being a good parent? You will never really know- and not knowing is perfectly fine. Parenting is a dynamic process. The parenting relationship never stays the same, so it is impossible to make an assessment that makes much sense. You may say to yourself, "Ah, that went well!" after you have been through some difficult territory with your child. For instance, your teen asks to have permission to go out with some friends and agrees to be home by 12. She goes out and returns by 12. You are pleased that she has demonstrated responsibility. The next time she goes out, she returns 2 hours late. You are angry, and you ground her for a week. Towards the end of the week, she comes to you and tells you that there is a dance happening and that she has been looking forward to attending especially because an old friend is visiting briefly and this appears to be the only time that they will be able to see one another. Does a good parent maintain the grounding or relax the punishment? 

Below are some questions you may ask yourself about your parenting. These are guidelines. There are no definitive answers. Parenting is an ongoing process that starts before conception and never ends. As adults we have learned how to parent ourselves. We all do this imperfectly. As we age, we may ask ourselves these questions over and over again and hear different answers. 

1) Do I treat my child's body, mind, and spirit with respect- the same kind of respect that I desire for myself? 

2) Do I understand that children mature slowly and at rates different from one another? 

3) Do I have a sense of how children and adults mature? 

4) Am I more nurturing or more critical in my parenting? 

5) Does my concern about how others view my parenting intrude frequently? 

6) Do I really listen to my children or do I mostly want them to listen to me? 

7) When I find myself treating my children in hurtful ways do I admit my mistakes or do I keep it to myself? 

8) When I find myself mistreating my children in ways that are similar to what I experienced growing up, do I get help, so that I may not continue destructive parenting practices? 

9) Do I find myself acting out, "Do what I say, not what I do."? 

10) Do I put pressure on myself to be a perfect parent? 

11) Do I trust my child to make good decisions based on their own thinking and not mine? 

12) Do I allow my child to act immaturely without being critical? 

13) Do I ask for and seek assistance when I am overwhelmed with the complexities of being a parent? 

14) Most importantly, do I understand that the judgments "good" and "bad" Are not only unhelpful; they are truly counterproductive in my attempts to assess my parenting? 

Again, parenting is a continual process. It is an ever-changing relationship between parent and child. Parenting is about nurturing a child to become an independent, functioning, and creative adult to the extent that is possible. Sometimes this relationship works really well, and sometimes it doesn't. If you find yourself hurting your child at times, rather than hurting yourself by labeling yourself a poor parent, forgive yourself, apologize to your child, and make a plan. This plan should inform you how you may avoid being hurtful, but not giving up your vital role as parent. In other words, as a parent, you are the boss. You may be strict, you may be firm, you may be lenient, or you may be an autocrat. Regardless of your style, you are still the boss. 

If your plan works, fine. If it doesn't, stop beating your head against the same wall. Get some assistance. Ask for help. Get another point of view. Parenting is an incredibly complex process. None of us do it quite right, and all of us want to do it better. Parental guilt, for the most part, is unnecessary. Many of us don't know that.


Ken Edelston MS is a life and business coach. He has extensive experience in counseling teens, adults, and couples. For over 20 years, Ken has specialized in treating the effects of addictions, parenting adolescent issues, and conflict resolution. His coaching practice focuses on helping individuals, families, business persons, and couples identify ineffective patterns of behavior and then exploring and implementing real change.

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