During a recent parenting presentation, a parent of twin boys looked at me and said, “This all makes me think I have been doing it all wrong.” My response to her? “I think most good parents feel that way!”
I am a firm believer that there is no one right way to parent. Every parent –child relationship is unique. What a child needs from a parent varies greatly from child to child. And what each parent has to give to children differs from parent to parent. What seems to me to be the most important is that you, as a parent, determine your own parenting style. And that you base this style on your strengths, your beliefs and your values.
Children benefit from consistency. When their surroundings are reliable, when they know what to expect and when they understand what is expected of them, they feel secure. This kind of consistency reassures them that they will be taken care of and helps them learn their own boundaries while giving them the courage to explore. An incredible source of consistency for children comes from parents who are steady in their parenting style. To be consistent as a parent you have to be clear on your own style as a parent.
So how do you find that clarity? What has helped me find my own clarity is to reflect on the following questions:
Who do I want to be as a parent? Think about when you’ve felt most good as a parent. How would you describe it? The times I have been most proud of myself are the times my best qualities are present: when I am compassionate, attentive and playful is when I am the most proud of me. So as a caregiver I need to make sure those qualities a part of my parenting style. When giving direction or doling out a consequence, I can still be compassionate as I show empathy for my children’s feelings. When doing chores with my children I can be playful and I can always be sure to attend to their needs.
Secondly, what do I want for my children? I want my children to feel confident in themselves and in their strengths. I hope they believe that I will always be there for them and that they have a life full of joy and incredible opportunities. How does my parenting style contribute to the desires I have for my children? To instill confidence I provide opportunities for them to succeed, to try new things and problem solve on their own. To have a life of joy I try to model for my children a “joyful” life and I show them that they can count on me by always “doing what I say I will do.”
Once you have clarity on your style as a parent, the last trick – I think – is intentionally adhering to that style. To be intentional requires thoughtfulness and recognition of your limits. For me I have found that slowing down and considering all my options helps me react in a manner that aligns with my style. I also think knowing that what works for me and my children doesn’t have to match what others would do. Finding people in my life with similar parenting desires has also given me people to talk to and keep me on track. And lastly, not to beat myself up when I goof-up. Reality is that there will be times when I feel tired or completely overwhelmed. During these times it will be hard to be a steady, consistent parent – so I will start over the next day. I figure I’ll be okay and my children will know the kind of parent I am if the majority of the time I am the parent I choose to be.