What is the definition of a “good parent”? Is it someone who is nurturing? Someone who is a disciplinarian? Someone who is a buddy? Perhaps a “good parent” possesses each of these qualities and many more. The challenge of parenting is that each parent must come to know their child – -and themselves — and make critical decisions regarding the type of parent they will be. I believe that the definition of a “good parent” is a parent who prepares their child to live a life where the parent is no longer needed. In short, a parent who allows themselves to become “not needed” is perhaps the parent who is doing the task of parenting well.
My children, 18 and 17, are continuing towards that ultimate goal. Each day they make decisions that are more and more ” their own”. In my work teaching parenting at a local community center I have often been asked by clients, “what makes a good parent?” Because the task of parenting is so daunting and each parent and child so unique, the answer to that question is one I approach carefully and thoughtfully and with much humility. Yet, I believe that better parenting makes for a better world and that parenting is done in concert with others who have lived and learned. Here are my suggestions:
1 – Say “yes” as much as possible. Saying yes does not mean no limits. You can say, “Yes, you can have a cookie AFTER you eat your dinner.” or “Yes, you can play with your friend AFTER you clean your room.”
2 – Hold on loosely but don’t let go. Sure, it’s a rock song, but it works in most relationships, especially parenting. The goal of parenting is to make dependent people independent in every way: socially, financially, spiritually and emotionally. I compare good parenting to a sledding slope. The first fives years are about the basics: getting all the required gear together, getting comfortable, finding the groove. This is the hard, physical and sometimes exhausting work. The next five years is the trek up the mountain where issues of trust in the parenting relationship are at their most delicate. Kids are asking, “Can I count on you?” during these times and parents must answer back, “Absolutely”. The next five years is the trek down where it is all about just guiding and enjoying the ride and recovering from any wipe outs. Celebration and reflection are the hallmarks of this stage.
3 – Know the difference in covenant and contract. A covenant is an agreement based upon one person whereas a contract is an agreement based upon two people. Parenting is a covenant in the sense that love is there for children at no cost, expense or effort on their part. My children cannot earn my love, it is mine to give. There are things in the relationship, though, that need contractual agreements, not necessarily in the legal sense but in the agreement sense. “When you finish your homework, we’ll go to the movie.” or “when your grades rise, you can have access to the car.”
4 – My children are not “mine”. I’m grateful (and humble) for being a part of the process of creating my children but they are not mine. I do not own them and in fact, the role I have is to provide them the opportunity for them to be the “boss of themselves” not for me to be the “boss of them”.
5 – My children are not to carry on my dreams. What a tremendous burden it is for kids to struggle under the weight of their parents hopes and dreams. I want my kids to have their own dreams, not be burdened with unmet dreams of my life. That means that when they are on the playing field of life — either metaphorically or physcially – my role is to cheer on my kid and their team. My kids are not there to struggle under my past no matter how glorious or pathetic.
6 – Speak truth into their lives whenever possible. Parenting is an opportunity for parents to create an opportunity where children see themselves in the story of life. This means that parents can literally speak what can be into the lives of their children whenever possible. This is why the messages that parents give their children are so important because from a child’s point of view the parent is the mirror in which they see themselves. Sometimes it may sound like a fiction story when you say d, “I know you can accomplish _____ goal!” And sometimes it may be the impossible dream. The goal of dreaming is to create a new reality that can be accomplished simply by seeing possibilities over obstacles, the good in the bad, the possible in the impossible.
Conversely, it is the parents role to guide the child into areas where they may be more suited. While I would never discourage my children to try new things I can see where they may have more natural gifts and can encourage their development in music, arts or athletics whenever I can. The ultimate decision for where I child goes, however, is their own.
7 – Be a screw up – I believe that kids need guidance, not perfection. In fact, I believe the role of parenting is to create completion not perfection. Parenting, by design, is as much about parents formation as it is the kids. This humble approach to parenting is transformative in that parents will learn as much about themselves and the world through the process of good parenting as the kids will.
8 – Companion to #7 – Say “I’m sorry” quickly – I have no problem saying “I blew it!” to my kids when appropriate. The reality is I blow it everyday. While it is humbling to realize that my kids already know more math skills than I ever will, it is also reassuring. No parent can know everything nor can any parent be everything for their child. A parent can, however, let their child know that they are cared for and that they are not alone.
9 – Have a partner – Whether married or not, parents need support. I am grateful for my husband of 21 years who is gifted in ways that I cannot ever be. As our kids have grown up I am comforted by how my husband can untangle a knot with our kids. At other times my parenting skill set may be more suited to a given situation. Knowing the needs of the child and what is most needed at the time is a skill to be learned as you know your child. Be patient with this process and with yourself. (Refer to 7 & 8 above!)
10 – Pray a lot – I believe that kids are part of life’s design with a creator that knows everything they need before they ever take a first breath. In fact that is my prayer in the murky days of parenting, “YOU know what they need, help them in spite of me.”
Maurie Traylor is the parent of two teenagers, holds a BS in Family Relations and Child Development from Oklahoma State University and teaches Nurturing Parenting for Tulsa Parent Child Center. She believes that good parenting skills can be learned and that good parents make for a better world.