I realize I keep talking about this topic as if it’s all new to me. If that’s what you’ve been thinking, you’re right. I’m sure you’re getting tired of me talking about how happy I am, and how much fun parenting is. It’s my blog, so neener neener.
What makes a parent a good parent?
It’s easy to figure out what a bad parent is – someone who is neglectful or abusive, emotionally bankrupt, mean, or unwilling to discipline. Those are all of the categories I could think of that would automatically make you a bad parent. If you’re neglectful (either absent completely, only showing up for occasional events), you suck. You don’t deserve to claim to be a parent if you aren’t involved. If you’re abusive, not only are you a bad parent, but you should be in jail. If you’re emotionally unavailable for the child, then you’re teaching them to either be emotionally unavailable themselves, or you’re teaching them to be super duper needy. Or both. If you’re mean, and by mean, I mean you yell at them constantly about every little thing, call them names, and punish them out of proportion to what they’re doing (for example, you spank them for spilling their milk), then you are teaching them to fear you. If you’re unwilling to discipline them when needed, you’re teaching them that the world is a big scary place without boundaries and they will probably be wild while simultaneously insecure.
But you can do the opposite of all those things. You can smother instead of neglecting. How many momma’s boys do you know who are 25 or 30 and still need mommy to do everything for them? There’s a lot of them out there. You can be overly emotional – teaching them to think that every thought or emotion that they have is the end of the world. You can be so nice and anti-confrontation that you teach them to be doormats (or worse, people who use doormats). You can discipline using appropriate punishments but do it for the wrong things. I was once spanked for not reading the Bible enough. That one still sticks in my mind 25 years later because I didn’t understand the connection.
If I think about all of the parents I’ve ever met (now including myself), I can’t think of one that didn’t screw up. EVERYONE loses their cool sometimes. Kids push buttons and boundaries, ignore us, smart off, repeat bad things they learned from classmates… the list is endless. Kids are almost perfect at figuring out when we’re right on the edge of loosing it and then saying something obnoxious. It sometimes seems they WANT us to lose our cool. Losing your cool doesn’t make you a bad parent. Not if you acknowledge you overreacted and tell them you’re sorry. That teaches them that it’s OK that they aren’t perfect, and it teaches them the proper way to act when they do mess up. Because they are going to mess up, guaranteed. In a few short months, Amber has found every single one of my buttons. And when she gets bored, she pushes them. I try to never get frustrated, but I do. It happens, and I don’t think that makes her a bad kid or makes me a bad parent.
Every parent is inconsistent at times. They say “if you don’t do X, I’m going to Y” and then they don’t follow through. It’s really easy to do, because often the punishment you threaten is actually a punishment to you as well. For example “if you don’t clean your room we aren’t going the amusement park.” If YOU want to go to the amusement park and they don’t do their chores, you just punished yourself right along with them. So the easiest thing is to go back on what you said. That doesn’t make you a bad parent, either. Trust me, they are THRILLED you’re not doing what you said. I’d say as long as you don’t ALWAYS go back on a punishment, it’s OK to back off sometimes. We had a date night a couple weeks ago and we told Lu she had to do her chores or she couldn’t go to her grandma’s house (her babysitter that night). Well, she didn’t get her chores done in the morning, and it would have been the easiest thing in the world to just skip it and take her anyhow. But we didn’t. We went back home at the end of the day so she could do her chores, which cut into date time. Sometimes consistency is a hard thing to do.
Every parent breaks their word. Most don’t even mean to… they’ll simply forget they said something (I’m the king of forgetting). A couple of weeks ago I told Lu that if she did her chores I’d play wiffleball with her. She did her chores and when she was done I’d forgotten. So had she. But she remembered the next day and she was super mad at me for “breaking my promise.” She was right, I did break my promise. Not on purpose, but I still had to apologize. Does that make me a bad parent? Nope.
Here’s my point. If you are trying your best every day and you love your child, and you aren’t abusing them… that’s literally all you can do. Learn from your mistakes, apologize when you mess up, and make them a priority. If they know they’re loved and know what the boundaries are, they will be just fine.
If perfection is the standard for being a good parent, I am in trouble.