It’s something I have fretted about many a time before – am I a good parent? I’m guessing that this is also a thought that has almost certainly crossed your mind at least once if not numerous times too. Because there is no manual to parenting and we’re all just fumbling around in the dark trying to do the best we can, sometimes it would be just nice to have a way to tell if you’re a good parent. With that said, we have Louise Hoffman Brooks, Family Advisor at Parenting Success Coaching back with her insights on this Q&A on the topic of “How to tell if you’re a good parent”, which will hopefully put your minds at ease!
Firstly, how common is it that parents feel they are messing things up?
It is very common to feel as though we are not quite measuring up. I think that is the case across the board in life at the moment. The story that dominates our culture and perhaps hits hardest when you are a parent and have not just yourself to look after – but also have sole responsibility for someone else’s life – is that we are supposed to have success across the board. Socially, workwise, thriving children and passionate marriage.
Why do so many parents feel this way?
There is an emerging shift in the parenting paradigm taking place at the moment. As so much more is understood about children’s development and mental health due to advances in technology – it has given rise to new practices. Navigating this landscape can feel immensely difficult and confusing as a parent.
When we can’t blindly copy what is in our own backpack – packed by our own parents, teachers and significant people in our lives growing up, we start to seek for answers outside of ourselves. Am I doing a good enough job? What’s she doing? What are Instagram and Facebook telling me a ‘good parent’ looks like?
Where does comparison come into all this?
Social media affords us a peek into other people’s lives – the life that we wish others to see. Seeing friends’ children’s GSCE results on Facebook and amazing family moments all over Instagram feeds this sense that my family is less than. My parenting is not good enough. Although we know better intellectually, we believe it when we compare other people’s front of house with our own backstage.
Some people think being a good parent is about being a good friend to their child – is this the case?
I think it can feel confusing to many parents what good attachment and connection is really all about. The term ‘positive parenting’ possibly also misleads us – in that we can come to believe that in order to be a good parent we need to always be happy and positive and seek consensus from our children.
But family is not a democracy. While we all have equal worth – everyone’s feelings, opinions and thoughts matter equally – we don’t have equal power. We are the leaders. We hold more power and our children wouldn’t want it any other way.
It feels unsafe for a child if mum and dad cannot be trusted to make the unpopular decisions about their care etc but shy away from these decisions in order to be liked. A connection is not about consensus or being the same. Connection is about holding space for our child’s feelings and opinions – even if they are different to ours. And even if we cannot accommodate their wishes.
What are some signs to look out for which show we’re a good parent?
The British child psychoanalyst Donald Winnicot termed ‘The good enough mother’ –offers a good understanding of our role as parents. That it is never about being perfect. As he puts it; The good enough mother – fail them in intolerable ways on a regular basis so they can learn to live in an imperfect world.
Does this mean that we need to not do our best? Of course not. But it is a way of managing our expectations. That our children – no matter how well we parent them – will grow up to feel that there is something that we missed, something that we couldn’t give them – in their childhood. Adulthood is, therefore, the journey of giving ourselves what we didn’t get in childhood.
Self-compassion – is, therefore, a sign of ‘good parenting’. The ability to forgive ourselves for our own shortcomings and for not having it all figured out. Because how could we. The journey can only begin with the arrival of YOUR unique child.
Because children do as we do – not as we say – we are powerful role models to our children. The way we tend to our own needs – speak to ourselves – and treat ourselves – forms the blueprint of our children’s relationship to themselves.
I think a willingness to be curious and open to our children’s perspective are great qualities that ensure good connection and adaptability.
And lastly – when we are big enough to assume responsibility for what is ours – we free our children from having to carry it for us. Too often our children end up carrying the load of our stress and overwhelm – and end up feeling that it is their responsibility to change the tone – or that they are at fault.
Becoming more aware of these dynamics – is one of the surest ways to change the wellbeing of our family.
Could you share with us some scenarios and tell us what a good parent would do in those cases?
A concrete example of when our own ‘stuff’ is taken out on our children is this:
If we have just had a row with our partner, feel stressed about it and start yelling at the kids. Even if that’s what we did – having enough of self-awareness to notice this retrospectively – and tell our children; Sorry I took my frustration out on you and yelled at you. That’s not what I wanted.
We all have busy lives. And it is easy to tell ourselves that our lifestyle only affects us. But it doesn’t. It affects our entire family – and our children especially. If we see that our children start digging their heels in. Not wanting to cooperate – fussing and crying a lot – it is often a way of saying; Slow down. This is all going too fast for me.
A kind way of responding to this is to self-reflect and ask ourselves both the big questions and the little questions:
Have we got a very hectic and stressful lifestyle?
Are we always running late, going from pillar to post – nagging and reminding our children to ‘come oooooon’.
Where are my thoughts right now?
Am I so not in the moment – that my child is not someone who just needs to be expedited? If so all that is needed is….
“ I can see it’s all a bit too much for you. Come here – and sit with me for a moment. Let me help you get your coat on’. This twominute break can save a whole morning.
On the flip side, could you share with us what you think bad parenting looks like?
While I struggle with the word good vs bad parenting – because I think we are all doing the best we can with the resources, insight or awareness we have – I do think it is unhelpful to our children when we weigh and measure them in terms of their results, achievements and behaviour only.
Many will probably think; well who would do that? But I think it is tempting to do this – because this how our children are viewed and rewarded by their school and institutions.
When our children’s lives become goal-oriented – when all activities need to serve a function – that activities are goal-oriented – it is virtually impossible to develop a strong sense of self and self-esteem which rests on a sense of being okay as one is. Irrespective of one’s achievements.
As parents we do well to be more interested in our child’s enjoyment of their afterschool activities than whether they progress. And create enough time in their daily life or weekends to just be, play, hang out and potentially even get bored.
And swap reward charts for curiosity. Why is my child well behaved? Or why does my child misbehave? What works? How are my presence and mood influencing my child’s behaviour? How does our lifestyle support our family’s wellbeing? And if it doesn’t then realising that it is our job – and our job only – to change it – is one of the kindest things we can do for ourselves and our children.
If you had to give a pep talk to my readers who were worried about whether they were as good parent it would be:
.. To ask yourself: Do I like my tone? Does the love that I feel for my children translate into loving behaviour? Remembering that ‘good parent’ is a subjective term. Decide what is important to you – and commit to honouring these values or behaviours as often as possible – and forgive yourself when you fail. Nothing from yesterday has to define who you are today.
If you’ve been wondering whether you are a good parent lately, I hope this Q&A has given you some much-needed insights into the things that we can worry so much about. Do you worry whether you’re a good parent? Do share in a comment below.
ABOUT LOUISE HOFFMAN BROOKS
Originally from Denmark, Louise lives in Surrey with her English husband, Dean and their two children, Freja 5, and Miller 2 ½ who she raises bilingually. Louise holds a BSc Psychology degree from University of Westminster, London and is a fully qualified Life and Business coach from a leading Danish coaching institute.
Besides having worked on a consultancy basis with children with a diagnosis of Autism, Louise has recently completed a foundation course in counselling and psychotherapy. Louise has since the birth of her second child attended all of Parenting Success’ workshops and has a keen interest in parenting issues and understanding what motivates children and make them thrive.