Whenever I run parenting seminars, there are always some parents attending who are there for ‘prevention’ purposes. By that I mean that they don’t have problems with their child’s behaviour (other than the general run-of-the-mill stuff we all encounter) but they are keen to get parenting right. They want to get tooled up with as much information as possible to make sure they are doing all the right things to make their children happy and successful.
On the one hand, this is great. Being passionate about child development myself, I want all parents to know about the forces that drive their children’s behaviour. When we understand where our children are coming from, it makes it much easier to respond to their behaviour in a thoughtful and intentioned way.
But sometimes, wanting to get parenting right can tip over into anxiety or perfection-seeking or neuroticism. I worry that some parents come to my seminars because they believe it is possible to do everything right in parenting. (It isn’t.) Or, that if they get their parenting right then that will guarantee their child’s success and happiness. (It won’t.)
Good parenting can never inoculate children against bad outcomes. Believing that it can is just the flipside of always blaming the parents when things go wrong. Life just isn’t that simple – and nor are children.
Parenting is a numbers game: we can only play the odds. Good parenting will increase the chances of children doing well. But it is only one factor. Children can only do as well as the cards life deals them. Their talents, their temperament, their health, their journeys through childhood will all play a part in how their lives turn out. Not just their parenting.
Unfortunately, bad things can still happen to children who have had great parenting.
And if we think that our parenting is the be-all-and-end-all of our children’s success, we risk missing the point of our children as unique individuals who grow and change through their lives in ways we can’t predict or control.
By trying to outmanoeuvre the fear in being a parent, we risk missing the wonder.
Parenting isn’t a performance you can grade. It’s a story of lives lived alongside each other. Complex, messy, unfair lives in which difficult things happen and love is realistic not ideal.
Our child’s childhood isn’t a journey which we can control. We can only hope to influence. If we think we can control it, we risk being knocked over and resorting to blame when life blindsides us with an unexpected challenge.
Resilient parents know that we are all making it up as we go along. And they’re ok with that. Because that’s the only way it can be done. They learn to be comfortable with never knowing whether they have made the right decision or said the right thing.
Being a parent who loves and tries and recognises when they get it wrong (most of the time), who builds a relationship with their child based on care and curiosity about who they will become (rather than a belief that they can control who they become) is being the absolute best parent anyone can be.
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©Anita Cleare 2017