This article is by our resident school counselor at Radical Parenting. Check out her bio and other articles or submit a question at School Counselor’s Corner: Q&A with Dr. A.
I have taken to constantly quoting the Nick Jr. channel’s saying of “We’re not perfect. We’re parents.” It is my absolute favorite, albeit for purely selfish reasons, as this simple ditty provides me great reassurance regarding my own parenting flaws. Naturally, I love to research parenting articles, maybe to the point of gluttony. From medical choices to academic suggestions to nutritional advice to emotional well-being, I try to absorb as much information as possible to make the best decisions for my children. The only problem is the more I read, the more confused I am about what constitutes “the best” decision for them. Should I lather them in sunscreen or make sure they are getting Vitamin D from the sun? Is the new flu shot really safe? Is it better to look for high fiber or less sugar on the nutritional package?
While these questions may seem silly, they do open the door to a larger question. How do we distinguish between the parenting information provided to us? What do I keep and what do I dismiss? I will share a few thoughts regarding “the good” and what I call the “not-so-bad” in relation to parenting and the flood of information available to us.
Let’s start with the good news. The majority of you readers can take a much deserved sigh of relief. According to the famous bell curve, most of your kids will turn out okay, despite our parenting bobbles along the way. What’s better? If you’re even remotely interested in educating yourself on how to be a better parent (and you are if you are reading this), your chances for raising a successful, well-adjusted child just increased. Awesome….and easy, right? Look at that, you are already a better parent than you thought!
Now, here is the not-so-bad side. Let’s face it, we all mess up! Despite all of our knowledge and best intentions (we know where those lead), we make mistakes. We are human and get frustrated, exhausted, sad, and dare I say angry with our kids. Sometimes, our emotions get the best of us and supersede all of that great, intellectual parenting information that we have hoarded. So, what do we do when we blow a gasket and have a temper tantrum of our own? Exactly what we would tell our kids to do – apologize for our behavior, talk it over, and learn from our mistakes.
I know that might sound a bit simplified, but it is sound advice. If our kids always see us in complete control of our emotions, never raising our voices, shedding a tear, or having argument, wouldn’t they assume this was normal behavior? Would you consider that normal behavior? As for me, I think our children are far better off observing real life and learning how to handle challenges and mistakes in a healthy, constructive manner rather than tucking away their emotions for the therapist they will inevitably need as adults!
I do not say this, however, to encourage you to let loose, stop educating yourself, or just wing the rest of your parenting career, but to reassure you that those times when you do mess up are probably not going to make or break your child’s future well-being. It is our consistent messages that make the greatest impact and we hope those messages convey love, respect, encouragement, and support. The main goal is that when a situation does goes awry, and they are guaranteed to do so occasionally, that you think through your reaction and make a conscious decision to respond rather than to react. This, my fellow parent, is one of the most challenging tasks we face in raising a child.
Lastly, I personally question any article or advice that supports extreme perspectives and fails to address opposite viewpoints. At my school, teaching tolerance and open-mindedness is an extremely important part of our character program. If we are to feel truly educated on a topic, I believe we need to be open to both sides of the story. Having all pieces of information as a parent, allows us to make more educated decisions that are right for our families. That means some families will make different decisions for their kids than you make. That doesn’t mean they are wrong, just different and both may serve their families well.
I encourage you to use your critical thinking skills when reviewing information. I often have parents send me articles or spout off advice they have received from a friend and ask for my opinion on the subject. The thing I look for most often is what the article or person left out. If an article is claiming a major association between two concepts, did they control for outside variables or address the study’s weaknesses? Similarly, for family and friends who tend to offer unsolicited advice, were they willing to share the downside of their decision or do they tend to be competitive and present everything their family does as flawless? If they don’t address these issues, then I give them less merit and move on with my own research or ideas. We need to be prudent rather than just accepting all the information we hear or read. And yes, that means you should be evaluating me right now, too!
So, as I sit here wondering what I have done today to mess up my own kids and believe me I have already budgeted for their future therapy, I encourage you to wade through your parenting information carefully and find what works for you. Be smart, trust your instincts, and go with your gut. I will end with a quote from my favorite song by the Laurie Berkner Band, “I’m not perfect, no I’m not. I do my very best each day, but I’m not perfect and I hope you love me that way.”