Are You Good Enough? What Makes A Good Parent?
Updated January 28, 2019
Reviewer Lauren Fawley
It is normal to worry about whether or not you are a "good enough" parent. It is likely you have never been in a position to feel totally responsible for someone else's future before parenthood (there is a lot riding on this!), and this naturally comes with its share of anxiety. Social media and the internet has allowed for more sharing (and comparing) information as ever before, and it seems that today's parents are questioning their parenting skills more than any other parents in history as a result. But how do you know whether or not you are doing the best for your kids? Let us take a look at what makes an effective parent.
The History Of Parenting
The history of parenting has depended a lot on what were the societal expectations of that time. Parents have consistently been tasked with the survival of their children, but parents have taken on different roles throughout history too (provider, teacher, disciplinarian, taskmaster). As society has evolved, there has been a greater emphasis on parents to entertain their kids, do excessive crafts and activities, maintain a model home, and protect children emotionally and physically at extensive lengths. This is sometimes referred to as "helicopter parenting" because it describes the parenting "hovering".
Parents have described pressure in today's culture to define success as raising a child to impressive adulthood - coupled with a memorable and magical childhood. Kids not only need to have good character but also rock-star grades, scholarship-worthy athletic skills, and photo albums documenting the scores of projects, vacations, and memories made as they grew up. A parent's identity is wrapped up in the success (or failure) of their child. It seems that in this time of competition, there is pressure felt to be an over-achiever.
These are not realistic expectations for every child to meet, however, and can interrupt processes of healthy childhood development, such as the need to free to make mistakes in order to learn, and the need to be accepted for who we are.
What Makes A Good Parent?
With so many pressing expectations of parents these days, it's hard to decipher public parenting opinion from research-based facts. If you're looking to raise an emotionally healthy person with a strong character, research suggests some of the following behaviors:
You love your child. This sounds obvious, and for the vast majority of parents, this is a 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 a child's behavior from their person so that they understand you love them even when they get in trouble for something they've done. Saying "you are wrong" to a child who makes a poor decision is much different than saying "you made the wrong choice".
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 acting to "keep up" with other parents, but your child needs most if the sense that they "are" enough, no matter what they have.
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 30 minutes of undivided attention (meaning you are not also on your phone or watching TV or completing another task) is beneficial for your child. This also means that you validate your child's feelings. If they are crying, do not tell them they do not have a good reason to cry, comfort them. 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 have to 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 a part of greater society. A child's brain does not have the capacity to regulate itself very well, so kids need to be shielded from things that are not good for them, like too much TV, sugar, or video games, for example. As a parent, you have to balance giving kids a chance to learn and experiment with helping them learn healthy behaviors by sometimes limiting what the child wants to do.
You allow them to safely fail. It hurts to watch your child get hurt but it also develops 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 are actually robbing them of a growth experience they need to have. When your child tells you about a difficulty that happened, have a conversation about what they can learn from it.
Let them be "bored" a little. Unstructured time has been showed to be very positive for a child's brain development. Do not feel like you have to provide an activity constantly. Children are naturally very creative, imaginative, and experimental, and it is very 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 and to encourage them to move their bodies even better.
You may have heard it said that "It takes a village to raise a child." It is true that parenting without support of other people is very hard, in essence you have to be absolutely everything to your child if you do not have other adults to help share the responsibility. Many cultures throughout history have shared responsibilities for raising children in different ways. In our society, having a "village" can simply allow you to peek into the reality of other families and normalize your own struggles. No one is a "perfect" parent because we are all just doing our best. Having support allows you to have concrete information about what has been working or not for other parents and a place to vent frustration about parenting (instead of taking out frustration on your child).
If you do not feel like you have a supportive "village" around you and you need help figuring out how to find one, if you struggle with social relationships, or are having a hard time parenting, consider seeking supportive online counseling through Betterhelp.com. You will likely find that if you care for yourself mentally, emotionally, and physically, you will have more energy to act like a capable and healthy parent.