I was recently asked to name my favorite parenting philosophy or strategy. My response: “For what child? In what situation? In what family?” I don’t believe in any one perfect parenting strategy. Rather, I believe in good parents who utilize lots of different tools to make good parenting decisions. Why?
Today I read a blog post by Not Just Cute about giving praise. The author specifically discusses the swing in popularity between loading on the praise and attempting to give none at all. She notes that in the 80’s and 90’s the parenting experts gave us the impression that we couldn’t give enough praise, but that now praise is on the outs. It is easy to get lost in the ever shifting world of parenting advice. In fact, not only does the overall zeitgeist change over time, but different experts may give contradictory advice on the same day to the same family!
If you look online, you will quickly find an unending flood of parents and experts debating the similarities and differences, strengths and weaknesses of various parenting methodologies. And it can be tempting, especially for experts, to get locked into one specific view and forget to see the forest through the trees. But, regardless of how much we may wish there was one, there will never be a definitive, works-100%-in-every-situation-with-every-kid parenting standard.
Why? Because kids are different. Parents are different. Families and circumstances and beliefs and values and cultures are different. No two are identical. And times change. The reality is that in 10 years, parenting experts will be saying different things. Sure, some of what we thought 10 years ago has stuck, or we have built on it, but some of it has gone to the wayside. The same thing will happen with what we think now.
The truth is that when we are locked into the “right method,” we are likely to fail to recognize what is “right” in the moment. What is happening in our family, with our child. When we get locked into the “right method” and stick to it at all costs, the price may end up being too high. We can fail to meet our child’s needs, fail to see what’s important because we are too busy clinging to the “right” parenting decision. This played itself out in my family recently when over the course of a couple months, my preschool-aged boys who share a room developed a pattern of each waking up numerous times every night and needing something (cover me up, I need to pee, I’m scared of shadows, I’m cold, I’m hot). We tried hard to stick to our parenting plans, consider developmental issues, and respond consistently. Nothing worked and meanwhile frustration, fatigue, confusion and sleep deprivation slowly seeped in. Until finally, I bribed them. I confess. I told them they could have anything (and I meant anything) they wanted for breakfast if they slept through the night without waking me up.
And it worked. From that night forward, they have both slept solidly without waking us up. Even once.
Well rested and clear-headed, I have some amount of guilt over resorting to a parenting strategy that I often advocate against. Some guilt. But at the same time I am aware that my other plan was getting our family nowhere, except into a deeper, darker, hole. And I am also aware that part of what did work in the end (bribe or not) was my ability to realize that what I was doing wasn’t working, and that I was running out of coping skills that would allow me to make good decisions.
Since then, we have reflected as a family on how much better we all feel. How much easier mornings are. How much more pleasant bedtime is. How nice it is when everyone’s needs get met. Since then, we have been able to go back and discuss and engage them in the process. So now sleeping through the night hopefully isn’t just about getting a special breakfast. It is now something that they know they can do and, hopefully, want to do because it feels better. The unhealthy pattern has been broken, and their bodies and minds are capable of repeating the healthy pattern.
I know many people might think I did the wrong thing. But I firmly believe that sometimes, the “right” parenting decision is whatever works for your family, even if others may have different opinions. Rather than focusing on whether or not we are following a specific philosophy, maybe good parenting decisions are more about the foundation on which the actual parenting decision is made. With that in mind, here are my top 7 criteria for good parenting:
- Lead with Love: Good parenting requires that we first lead with love. Parenting is hard. It requires an unending amount of patience and thought and decision making and intuition. Leading with fear, anger, resentment, etc. makes for bad parenting decisions. Lead with love. Always.
- Interact with Respect: The idea that children should be respected is one theme that has slowly evolved in the parenting literature. When we view our children as people in their own right who deserve respect, we make better parenting decisions.
- Aim for Growth, not Control: Often, we make parenting decisions based on what WE need (quiet, calm, a clean house, control). But if we are intentional about aligning our responses with what the child needs to grow and develop, we make better parenting decisions.
- Remember to Self-Reflect: In order to make good parenting decisions, we need to be willing to look at our own triggers, shortcomings, mistakes and patterns. Refusal to do this results in diagnosing the child as the problem, when it may just be our response!
- Maintain Flexibility: Sometimes the problem is that we are going about things the wrong way. Sometimes we make a decision or set a plan or buy into a parenting strategy that just doesn’t work. In order to make good parenting decisions, we need to be able and willing to be flexible in our approach.
- Consider the Child/Parent/Family: Rather than trying to force the child to acquiesce to a parenting strategy, we need to have a strategy that works for the child. Good parenting means asking, “What do I know about my child, myself, my family that would help me determine the right course here?”
- Remain Open to Learning from the Child: Our children bring a lot of inner wisdom to the table. Good parents are willing to learn just as much as they teach.
Love. Respect. Intention. Self-reflection. Flexibility. Consideration. Openness. These are the foundations of good parenting. If we work hard to make sure they stay at the heart of all our interactions with our children, we can walk this path of parenting with the knowledge that while we may not always make the best decision every time, we are coming from a place that is thoughtful and true and genuine.
And when we really think about it, aren’t these also seven traits that we would love to instill in our children? What a concept. That’s a parenting philosophy that makes sense to me.