Who are the best parents and what qualities do they possess? Through my life, work, and experience, I have come to understand that being a parent and parenting a child or children encompasses a great deal more than physically conceiving and giving birth.
The concept of parenting can be seen from a much broader point of view. In the American Heritage dictionary among the definitions of parent we find:
o One who begets, gives birth to, or nurtures and raises a child; a father or mother
o An ancestor; a progenitor
o A guardian; a protector
o A source or cause
We also find the definition of parenting to be: “The rearing of a child or children, especially the care, love, and guidance given by a parent.”
It is easy to see that an ancestor and a guardian or protector can be more than a biological mother or father. We have many examples in our society; foster parents, adoptive parents, and other relatives who act as parents, and even teachers to name a few. Going beyond the obvious parental figures and opening up the last definition under parent to include spiritual contexts, we get a grander view of the subject of parenting. Parents learn that even though they are primary guiding influences in their children’s lives; they are not alone and have an abundance of support available, even spiritual assistance, in their role as parents.
Without getting into theology or debates about “religion”, it is safe to say many view God, Spirit, or The Creator to be a caring, loving and guiding influence. Since care, love and guidance are qualities that come to children from parental figures in multiple ways; children have resources beyond their biological parents and/or physical guardians. Even if parents “monitor” access to these resources, it is important to encourage access to any sources that enhance children’s constructive growth and development.
While overseeing access to helpful influences on our children, we might ask ourselves if it is a realistic expectation to shield our children from every individual who is not beneficial and even those who turn out to have a harmful impact on them. Instead it is more realistic to be available to assist and support their overcoming, growing through, and/or healing of these troublesome life experiences.
Can we be present in a child’s life every minute of every day for their entire life? Realistically, we can not. If we were in their presence every second, would this child learn and grow into a competent healthy adolescent and adult? There is a tremendous difference between knowingly plunging a child into an unhealthy situation and having a potentially damaging incident occur, ultimately creating a situation needing healing, while striving to be conscientious parents.
Parents have a beneficial impact and do their children a great service by teaching them, as they grow and mature; to nurture, care for, and love themselves and how to make sound decisions. When we teach them healthy and age appropriate self care and decisions making skills, we help them to be more empowered during every stage of their life and to be of further value to themselves and others-including their offspring. When a child is not taught to nurture, care and love them self and to learn to make some decisions on their own, it not only leaves the child less capable in his/her own life; but also becomes harder, in turn, to teach his/her children these same important skills.
In addition to teaching parents to help their children learn to age and maturity appropriately care for themselves; we encourage these parents to, at the same time, care for themselves which sets a positive example for their children. Children learn a great deal by watching parents and other adults deal with life and relationships.
What if a parent realizes that their parenting has been lacking in some areas, when their children are more advanced in age? The simple answer is: it is better to make improvements later than not at all. Interestingly, children can be positively impacted by a parent making constructive changes at any age. It is advisable for a parent who discovers they have been deficient in some way as a parent to forgive themselves as well as their own parental figures, and admit they need help and/or change unhealthy parenting habits or even generational patterns. During this process, it may benefit both parent and child for the parent to communicate their desire to be forgiven by the child.
The lesson of forgiveness, even self forgiveness, along with the act of getting assistance and/or making changes also serve as good modeling for children. Keeping in mind that children learn and receive many messages from the way parents and significant adults in their lives respond to the world raises awareness to the fact that what parents do and the changes they make in life can have an impact on these children and their offspring.
So, who are the best parents? Perhaps the best parents are those individuals who have been taught and encouraged over time to care for and love themselves, to have realistic expectations for themselves and others, to forgive themselves as well as others when possible, and are able to seek guidance in their own ways in facing life situations and challenges. These individuals have ultimately, as an adult, taken over the role of parenting themselves.