Are You Good Enough? What Makes A Parent Good?
It is normal to worry about whether or not you are a "good enough" parent or to wonder how to be a better parent. You have likely never been in the position where you feel totally responsible for the future of someone else before parenthood (it can be a heavy burden!), and this naturally comes with its share of worries.
Social media and the internet have allowed for more sharing (and comparing) of information than ever before, and it seems that today's parents are questioning their parenting skills more than any others in history. It may sometimes feel like today’s parents are in a “better parent” competition.
How do you know whether or not you are doing the best for your baby, child, or teen? What can you do if you want to be a great parent?
What Makes An Effective Parent?
First, remember that even those who are considered good parents aren’t perfect, so try to take some pressure off of yourself. You don’t have to have all of the answers right now. What’s important is that you’re a loving, safe, supportive presence in your child’s life. So, when worries and self-doubt pop up, you might try something positive: learning more about good parenting skills and then practicing those good parenting skills to see what works for the well-being of your kids, your family, and you.
Let’s look at what makes an effective parent.
The History Of Parenting
What makes a good parent? What many think of as good parenting today may not be what was considered good parenting in earlier times. The history of parenting has depended a lot on the societal expectations of that time. Parents have consistently been tasked with the survival of their children, but they have taken on different roles throughout the course of history too (provider, teacher, disciplinarian, etc.).
As our world has evolved, there has been a greater emphasis on “good parents” being family caretakers, entertaining their kids, maintaining a model home, and safeguarding children emotionally and physically.
This is sometimes taken to an extreme, which is now referred to as "helicopter parenting". The term helicopter parenting was coined by adolescent psychiatrist Foster Cline and parenting expert Jim Fay to describe when well-meaning parents "hover" around the child to keep them safe.
Parents have described pressure in today's culture to reach “success,” with “success” being defined as raising a child to impressive adulthood - coupled with offering a memorable and magical childhood. It can seem like children not only need to have good character but also rock-star talents, top grades in school, and scholarship-worthy athletic abilities. Some children may achieve these goals; many other children will not. Generally speaking, this is not a reflection of good parenting skills or lack thereof, but a parent's identity can become wrapped up in the success (or failure) of their child due to the level of investment they have in their child. It seems that in this time of competition, there is pressure felt by many kids to be an over-achiever and by many parents to raise an over-achiever, as they may feel this equates to good parenting.
These are not realistic expectations for every child to meet, however, and can interrupt processes of healthy childhood development. Raising a high achieving child is nice but does not define what makes a great parent. In fact, some kids may have better outcomes without so much pressure.
The 4 Types Of Parenting Styles
Clinical psychologist Diana Baumrind first established the concept of parenting styles in the 1960s. The four main types of parenting styles recognized today are authoritarian, permissive, uninvolved, and authoritative. In order to be effective, being mindful of your own general parenting style can be important. Also, embracing aspects of what research shows to be the most highly regarded parenting style may help you as you try to be a good parent.
Parenting styles can be fluid. Some styles may fluctuate depending on circumstances, such as the mood of the caretaker or the stage of child development kids are in. Let's take a look at parenting styles and aspects of what can be good parenting.
This caretaker is strict and uses harsh discipline. An authoritarian parent is one who rules with an iron fist in the family. "Because I said so" is not uncommon to hear, and when the child breaks the rules, they're going to be punished, but good behavior may go unrecognized. These parents may have high expectations, often unreasonably so, and they may threaten kids with punishment if they don’t meet them. A child’s misbehavior is often met with anger to “teach” the child a lesson, but not with guidance, so that child learns to have better behavior in the future.
It takes a lot for these parents to consider bending their rules, so these parents tend to not be as nurturing to their kids. It's definitely one of the more controversial styles, to say the least. Some authoritarian parents may be repeating the way their own parents acted (In fact, many parents may repeat the parenting style they were exposed to in their own childhood).
This style is the opposite of authoritarian parenting. Permissive parenting is when the parent generally opts not to set rules, leaving the child to rely on self-direction and making decisions for themselves. A permissive parent is much more nurturing and empathy-oriented than an authoritarian in many situations, but they still usually don't give their children guidance.
Permissive parenting is often associated with spoiled kids and parents who think their children can do no wrong. This may lead to some behavior problems in and outside of the family, as the parents may not teach children about accountability for their actions.
Permissive parents may also go overboard to “help” their child (doing the child’s homework for them, for instance). Many parents who are permissive tend to want to be friends with their kids and avoid the conflict that can come from setting boundaries, but good parenting skills include setting reasonable limits and structure for your child that are appropriate for the level of the child’s development.
While an uninvolved parent is similar to a permissive parent in allowing a child a lot of freedom, there is also a major difference in that this parenting style involves little to no nurturing. A permissive parent can be actively involved and even seem like a child's best friend, but an uninvolved parent is often distant and not communicative with their kids. Sometimes, an uninvolved parent doesn't seem to care about their child; other times, they may be extremely busy with other activities of their own.
Their child may end up being withdrawn and have a hard time staying out of trouble. Some children end up learning how to take care of themselves early. An uninvolved parent may also be a neglectful parent. A good parent meets the needs of their children, while a neglectful one does not.
Authoritative parenting is considered to be the healthy balance of parenting styles. Many experts endorse this style of raising kids. Authoritative parents are warm and loving, but they also set smart rules, consistent and healthy limits, and structure for their children.
These parents treat children with respect. They also set clear, reasonable, healthy boundaries that are appropriate for the level of their child’s development. There are rules for the kids, but these rules have an explanation and sometimes, the rules change over time. Consequences for breaking rules are communicated and reasonable. Parents try to use mistakes as an opportunity for teaching kids ways they could choose better behavior in the future.
Authoritative parents aim to be good role models for their children. They have expectations for kids, but there's reason behind those expectations and authoritative parents often explain their rationale. They are also flexible; if the child has a different goal, the parent may listen and ultimately change their expectations.
An authoritative parent doesn't belittle their child, but they don't talk to kids like they're adults. They know how to talk to a child so that they can understand. They also tend to be good listeners. This healthy communication style can lead to less conflict in family life, help solve disputes in a productive way, and build a strong bond between parents and kids.
An Effective Parent Means...
With so many pressing expectations of parents these days, it can be hard to decipher public parenting opinion from research-based facts about what makes a good parent. If you're looking to raise an emotionally healthy person with a strong character, research suggests some of the following behaviors can help you to be considered good parents.
You Love Your Child
This sounds obvious, and for the vast majority of parents, unconditional love is felt and given, even when your child's behavior is frustrating and hard to cope with. But how are you communicating this? It is important to separate your child's behavior from their person so that they understand you love them even when they get in trouble for something they've done. The parent saying, "you are wrong" to a child who makes a poor decision can have a much different effect than saying, "you made the wrong choice.” Showing your child that you love them unconditionally may be the best advice.
You Give Your Child Food, Clothes, And shelter
Providing for your child's basic needs is a hallmark of parenting. There can be pressure to go above and beyond in these areas if you are trying to "keep up" with other parents, but your child needs the sense that they are enough, no matter how their material possessions compare.
You Meet Your Child's Emotional Needs
This does not mean you must spend every moment of every day with your focus only on your child, but it does mean that you spend quality one-on-one time with them, nurturing their heart and showing them that they are valued and important to you.
Some experts say that even 30 minutes of undivided attention per day (meaning you are not also on your phone or watching TV or completing another task) can be beneficial for your child. This quality time doesn’t have to be complicated. You might read stories or play with younger kids, or just chat or cook with older kids. Sharing a family meal each day can be a great habit. Quality time can help you build a strong, good relationship.
Meeting your child’s emotional needs also means that you validate your child's feelings. If they are crying, it is often best not to tell them they do not have a good reason to cry, but rather to be compassionate and comfort them instead. Feelings are always ok, but you can teach your children healthy ways to cope with them (for example, do not hit someone when you are angry). Parents should be a good example when it comes to managing feelings in a healthy way too.
You Set Limits When Appropriate
Children need to learn eventually that they will not always be able to have their own way. Setting limits with children is an effective way to help them learn to be part of the greater society. The child's brain does not have the capacity for self-control yet, so kids should be shielded from things that might not be good for them, like too much TV, sugar, or video games, for example.
As a parent, you have to balance giving kids the chance to learn and experiment with helping them learn healthy behaviors by sometimes limiting what the child wants to do. Aim to set limits (while still giving kids lots of opportunities for independence) that are appropriate for the age and level of the child’s development. It may help to know that along with warmth, healthy monitoring – staying informed about the activities and individuals your child is involved with – has been found to be one parental key to high self-esteem.
You Allow Them To Safely Fail
Raising a child can come with joys and heartache; it hurts to watch your child get hurt, but it also allows them to develop resilience, which is critical for appropriate functioning later in life. If you rescue your child in every challenging situation because you believe "good parents" prevent their children from experiencing emotional pain, you may actually be robbing them of the growth experience they need to have.
When your child tells you about some difficulty that happened, consider having a conversation about how they can learn from it. Gently nudging them to view failures as learning opportunities and chances to grow stronger can help them build their resilience.
Let Them Be "Bored" (Sometimes)
Unstructured time has been shown to be incredibly positive for children's brain development. You should not feel like you have to schedule every moment of your children’s lives; children are naturally highly creative, imaginative, and experimental. It is healthy for parents to encourage children to entertain themselves for a bit of time every day. If you live in a place where your children can go outside for some fresh air, you may encourage them to move their bodies.
You may have heard it said that "It takes a village to raise a child." While parenthood can sometimes be a joy, it is also true that parenting without support of others can be extremely hard. If you do not have other adults to help share the responsibility, you have to be absolutely everything to your child. Many cultures throughout history have shared responsibilities for raising children in different ways. In our society, having your "village" can simply allow you to peek into the reality of other families and normalize your own struggles or family experiences.
No one is the "perfect" parent; we are all just doing our best. Even a great parent isn’t perfect all the time. Having support allows you to have concrete information about what has been working or not working for others and a place to vent frustrations (instead of taking out frustration on your child).
If you feel like you need help finding support and advice, if you are dealing with marriage challenges or struggling with social relationships, or if you are having a hard time raising your child, consider seeking supportive online counseling through BetterHelp. With BetterHelp, you can meet with a licensed counselor, parenting coach, or licensed marriage counselor that is matched to your needs, with available messaging 24 hours a day for in-the-moment advice and reflections.
Many parents find that online parenting can be even more convenient and effective for parents due to its flexibility; you can meet with a therapist from your own home and get the same level of professional help and advice as in-person therapy. A therapist can help you with many aspects of life, including helping you explore what makes a good parent for your family and individual ways you can be a great parent to your kids.
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