What makes a good parent in today’s world?
“Why is it so hard to be a parent today?”
“What would make me a good parent?”
“Why is expectation from a parent so high?”
“Isn’t it enough to provide the basics for a child?”
“How many roles is a parent expected to play?”
“What is the right formula for an effective parenting?”
“Do we have to focus so much on parenting?” and so on...
These are compilation of questions that I have been confronted with during my interaction with various groups of parents in and around Kerala either during parenting sessions or during one on one consultation sessions.
There were even questions like “Is there a need to talk so much about parenting? Isn’t it a part of natural process? Like any other skill, does parenting also need a training?
In my opinion, I feel it is harder to be what is deemed a “good” parent these days. Apart from the challenges that have come along with the electronic age, the standards for “good parenting” have changed dramatically.
Especially when we compare ourselves to our parents or grandparents and feel that we are doing much more and beyond for our children than what we received as a child. Fifty or more years ago, good parents were those who provided for their children and taught them to be mannerly, respectful, and responsible.
Parents worked to protect their children from the dangers of the world and worried about the basics, such as food and shelter. Were their children dressed appropriately? Did they sit up straight? Did they get enough to eat and proper medical care?
Successful parents produced children whose outward behavior was the benchmark against which the job the parents were doing was measured. Little was known about the inner emotional world of children and how it developed.
The explosion of information makes it hard to parent:
Then along came new information about growth and development. Not just about how children should grow physically, but how they should grow socially, emotionally, and intellectually.
In a relatively short span of time – thirty or so years – there has been an explosion of theories about child psychology. And with this new understanding of how children develop came new stresses and pressures on parents, not just to produce children who are compliant, but ones who are emotionally and relationally healthy as well.
This new information helps to explain why it can feel so overwhelming at times to be a “good” parent today. No longer do we just consider whether we are raising children who act appropriately, although this is important.
As we provide structure and discipline to teach our children to be responsible and caring, we also need to keep their emotional well-being intact.
This second piece is extremely difficult, because while we can visually determine that a child is behaving properly, we cannot see or easily measure how healthy his inner world is.
Questions we might ask ourselves that focus on nurturing emotional health are:
How can we help our children
- Feel confident and capable?
- Believe in himself/herself?
- Feel safe, secure, and loved?
- Deal with stress and crisis?
- Be aware of his own strengths and limitations?
In addition to paying attention to our child’s internal world, we need to assess the quality of our relationship with our child, considering such things as building:
- Sense of caring
Teaching and modeling the qualities that contribute to emotionally healthy relationships can help instill these qualities in our children and make it more likely that they will turn to us for guidance.
This is not an easy goal to achieve for many of us who were not taught by our parents to have strong bonds. And again, how will we know if we have done a good enough job? The relational health of an individual is even harder to measure than his emotional health.
Questions we might ask ourselves that focus on building a healthy parent/child relationship are:
How can I
- Encourage open communication between us?
- Build trust and safety between us?
- Help my child be trustworthy in relationships?
- Keep us close even when there are conflicts?
I would like to compare the parental responsibilities to the tip of the iceberg. The tip is the outward behavior which we observe in our children. And beneath the waters there is so much like providing the support and strength to those outward behaviors are the emotional and relational health of each child.
In addition to teaching certain behaviors, we should also be mindful of our children’s self-esteem and work to maintain a loving and trusting relationship with our children. These are the foundations we would want to build so that our children can best cope in the world and we will more likely see the behaviors we want in our children.
There is no single or right formula for being a good parent but if we are mindful of the changes around us and are able to keep these three aspects parental responsibility in mind we may increase our chances of being a responsible parent and can stay connected to our children as they mature and become independent.
(The author is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Learning Arena, an e-learning company)