by Thelma Farley
It’s totally normal at times for parents to doubt themselves and their parenting. That’s a good sign; it means that you’re thinking and evaluating your own activities and approach. Before you get stuck in a parenting pit, check to make sure that you are not living in some powerfully persuasive myth. Here are three myths that trick most parents:
The myth of the ideal family, the myth of the perfect parent, and the myth of inadequate role performance—feeling that there are deadly mistakes to be made, and excellent parenting is only performed by super skilled people, one of which is not you.
Regardless of what some people think, including your own adult family members, talk-show audiences, friends, and the latest child rearing experts, your child is already in the ideal family. Your idea of family should be uniquely your own. Children have specific needs that must be met. Families differ in the way they prioritize and perform the tasks, make use of available resources, and apply their values in daily life.
How these needs are met is usually more important than by whom. Whatever the family structure or combination of adults, in the mind and the heart of the child, his adults are his parents. He learns to trust that his family will meet his needs in the good enough way. Because you know and love him, he lives in an ideal family.
You dream about being one. Note that none has ever been seen in a living state. Cultivating the myth of perfect parent is useless. The road to parent sanctity is paved with martyrs and control freaks. Your success is not defined by how much pain you spared your son, how many material gifts you provided for your daughter, or how much trouble they managed to avoid during your lifetime.
When moms and dads confess, they make plenty of choices that seem derelict. Mistakes are good messages to ourselves that we are human. Besides, if you are the example of parenting perfection, there’ll be no mistakes for your kids to correct, nothing for them to learn by trial, error, and persistence in the face of adversity. No need to save money for later therapy.
Consider licensing parents? You’ve heard people say it. What if men and women had to pass a test and apply for a license before they were allowed to parent? You could certainly come up with the qualities one should possess. If you’re as hard on yourself as most, your list will be pages long. But… look carefully and you notice that no one could satisfy such a list. If your own parents had to be all and do all before they were licensed to parent, what is the chance that you would be here today?
In a sense, making such a list is easy; living even a portion of your list is not. Unsolicited parenting advice is everywhere: your mate, parents, in-laws, friends who have children or not, and parenting experts who don’t always agree. All have items for your list. Whose advice should you follow? Given your situation, your priorities, resources, style, values, and your child’s personality, some advice will work just fine for you, or fine for everyone but you. Keep going until you find the advice that is right for you and your family.
Here’s where you need to rely on your ability to make a good enough decision by looking at a puzzle and putting the pieces together in such a way that you can actually live with the outcome. Gather information about your specific concern. Do some reading, talk to a few people you admire and watch how a few other parents do it. The more information you gather, the more options you can consider.
Now, throw out all options that clash with your values. Discard those which aren’t practical or acceptable. It will be difficult to live with outcomes that rub you the wrong way or have side effects that you can’t tolerate. Identify all the reasonable, acceptable options and pair each with an outcome. If you do X … what’s likely to happen? Can you live with that?
Use your common sense, your intuition, your knowledge of yourself and your assessment of your child’s needs. Make your decision and act. You can always go back and adjust or try something else. Children are marvelously resilient and far more adaptable to changes in direction than you are. The only serious “mistake” will be one that stops your child from breathing.
Under pressure to “do it right,” making parenting decisions can feel like staring down the barrel of a loaded gun. We are anxious that we might:
-do the wrong things -do the right thing for the wrong reason -do the right thing for the right reason in the wrong way
You may be raising a second child, but each time you are parenting a different child; you will create and understand your parenting differently. That means you are going to make “mistakes.” Unless you are a totally dysfunctional person, your parenting over time will be right more than wrong. You will have many chances to learn, change, and grow. In fact, you will be parenting into infinity.
Parenting is too scary if you feel you must be on guard and in control every moment. Fear is a very primitive emotion. Fear and its companion, anxiety, are triggered when you feel powerlessness in the face of serious threat or actual danger. Every parent carries unspeakable fears, secretly, and sometimes for years. Some of the most commonly reported are:
-I might die, and my child will be motherless/ fatherless.
-My child might die because I wasn’t there to save her.
-I will make serious mistakes in raising my child and discover too late how to correct them.
-I will not do enough for my child or omit something critical.
-I will hurt my child physically/emotionally/spiritually and not be able to stop hurting her/him.
-Something will go wrong for my child, and I will find out too late to help or save her.
-I will abandon my child. My child will abandon me.
-I will really dislike who my child becomes. I will have no reason to be proud of him. He will become an object of my shame.
-My child will grow alienated from me. She will not like me.
Parenting in the dark will keep you feeling stuck until you take the action steps. Fear of the dark lessens once you turn on the light of understanding and compassion. It’s all right to feel afraid from time to time. Letting yourself feel the fear is the first step toward taking an action. Do check to see whether you have the fear, or the fear has you. Don’t give your fear to your child; both of you will be lost in the forest. If the fear controls you, find help in turning on the light.
Lights are on when you:
-make choices and deal with the consequences one day at a time. -use your best knowledge as well as your common sense. -remind yourself that your child is not easily “broken” by your innocent or exhausted mistakes. -talk to other parents or consult professional help if you feel really stuck.
Your good enough parenting will accomplish all that your child needs every time you think about what you want to achieve, do your best, love your child and yourself and stay proud of your parenting.
The goal of parenting is lofty … to raise a child who in time is willing and able to take on his or her own life, continue to maximize their potential, and pursue a happy life. You are your child’s first and most lasting teacher and resource, his best parent, and the most important person in his life. Believe it!
Thelma Farley is a nationally-acclaimed child and adolescent development specialist, who at various times in her career has served as consultant to Federal, State and Local schools. Farley is the primary author of Every Person Influences Children (EPIC): a nation-wide self-esteem program for children, parents and teachers. In 1983 she co-founded Beacon Day School and during her tenure as Director has provided teacher training on creating developmentally-responsive curriculum to East Bay public schools. Thelma’s expertise in child and adolescent development makes her a sought-after speaker on parenting issues. Her book, Parenting Developmentally: Living the Passion, Power and Perks, is in a second printing. www.thelmatalk.com