Am I a good parent? Are you a good parent? What is a good parent? How do you classify? And why the hell does nobody ever ask: do I have “good” children? 🙂 Today, let’s talk about parenthood and it’s many myths.
I Love My Children BUT …
Have you ever uttered that sentence? And finished it with anything random like: I love my children – but they drive me up the wall sometimes. I love my children – but sometimes I just want to hide from them. I love my children – but if I hear the word “mom” or “dad” just ONE MORE TIME in the following 5 minutes I will blow a fuse! 😉 Sounds familiar? I just bet it does. Does that make you, me, or any of us a bad parent? In a world designed around and about our kids I believe and promote quite the opposite: no, our children aren’t perfect. Yes, we should look at them honestly and critically. They are neither the rosy cheeked cherubs we like to portray in their first baby pictures we send to family and friends (filled with pride and naively thinking looking at our children will always fill us with a sense of peace and deep love (LOL)), nor are they miniature sized PTT’s – parent targeting terrorists, who find a myriad of ways to terrorize us and blow up even the best thought out plans. Let’s face it people – our children are a bit of both of that, and then some.
As parents we go through such opposing emotions that the up’s and down’s involved in that are likely to drive us all a little bit insane. If you are a parent, you will know exactly what I am talking about. If you are planning a family …. kudos! You are in for a wild ride 😉
What Is A Parent?
A parent, by dictionary definition, is “a father or mother; one who begets or one who gives birth to or nurtures and raises a child; a relative who plays the role of guardian”
That doesn’t sound too complicated, does it? Hmmmm. I personally believe that the “simple” process of having children – pregnancy, giving birth – really isn’t what its all about; in other words: putting children into this world doesn’t make us parents. It makes us biological creators, willingly or unwillingly, by choice or not, in a setting of planned parenthood or even as a sperm donor. The wild ride of becomming a parent may start once you learn of pregnancy, but in all honesty, it really begins to take form the moment there is a living, breathing tiny human who is completely and fully dependant on you in all aspects of it’s being. A lot of women may argue that parenthood means something different for them because of the hormonal desasters they (have to ) go through during and after pregnancy. Again, I disagree. The hormonal clusterfuck a woman is biologically exposed to during these times has a lot of purpose and can be explained when looking at it from an evolutionary standpoint. Pregnancy changes hormones and chemical receptors in the brain. However, we also know that neural changes do occur in the maternal behaviour of humans and certain non-human primates that enable mother–child bonding to occur outside the context of pregnancy and parturition and in the absence of lactation (breast feading). Basically that means that the hormones of pregnancy, parturition and lactation are not necessary for maternal or alloparental care – pregnancy doesn’t make a woman a mother / parent!
Why do women that have given birth tend to somehow feel superior to non-biological moms or dads in general? It’s all got to do with the endogenous opioid system.
Indeed, it has been suggested that the activation of this system at parturition and during suckling promotes the positive effect arising from maternal behavior and thus should support the process of bonding. During the early post-partum period, shortly after giving birth, a mother’s social interactions are almost exclusively with her infant, she is protective and caring toward her child; chemically the opiate receptors in the mother are blocked due to her hormonal state. If those young mothers are given medication to unblock those receptors, the protective and care responses are reduced. In other words: a mother’s possessive preoccupation with her infant child is nothing more than certain chemicals in her bloodstream causing that reaction. Its not an instinct or anything happening on an emotional or transcendental, even magical level. Its basic biology and could be artificially reproduced in ANYONE, regardless of gender or biological genetic link to the child. Biology gets more crafty even. The action of the endogenous opioid system after giving birth has influence on a part of the brain where our “reward system” is localized. We bond, it makes us feel good. Simple as that. So we bond more to make us feel better and eventually many of us fall into the trap of needing that bond in order to feel good and getting overwhelmed by the constant care of our children. Mothers – biological ones at that – experience preoccupations and rituals in the context of maternal care, and even before the birth of their baby they are obsessive with cleaning and creating a safe environment. After birth, safety is the major concern and mothers frequently check on their baby even at times when they know the baby is fine. Primates do the same, girls. What we are prone to do any monkey does – because their hormones dictate it, just as they do with us. Again, no magic involved. It is noteworthy that we see similar hormonal/chemical activity in psychopathological diseases such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and substance abuse as well as mild forms of addictive behaviour (gambling, video games, internet use, and consumption of caffeine and chocolate).
In essence: chemistry doesn’t make a parent a parent. Pregnancy or giving birth doesn’t make a parent a parent. I believe we will all come up with different definitions. I personally believe it is in many small things (like not being disgusted to whipe your own kids’ snotnose but in other kids it makes you cringe) and a few major ones. Lets look at the common conceptions/misconeceptions, shall we?
Good Parent / Bad Parent
- safety. Thats non-negotiable. Your children should always, always, always feel that they are safe with you and that you are their safe haven.
- provide home, nutrition, care – sure. Thats part of the “job description” also non-negotiable
- now, the bummer: UNCONDITIONAL LOVE ……..
The basic idea behind unconditional love seems quite reasonable. You should love your children just for who they are, regardless of what they do. Children shouldn’t have to worry whether their actions will cause you to love them less. They should be able to count on your love no matter what.
But unconditional love is a rather new phenomenon. As recently as the 1950s, conditional love was the dominant parenting approach. It was a way to maintain control, foster conformity, and instill certain values and beliefs held by parents and society at large. Then the Sixties came along and with them a sort anti-reaction to the rigidity of the post-World-War-II era. People decided to raise their children with unconditional love. Within a short time, America went from “Love if you obey and behave” to “Love without limits.” And that, boys and girls, backfired big time. By taking away conditional love, parents lost their ability to influence their children. Parents gave their children carte blanche in the misguided belief that this freedom would build their self-esteem, foster maturity and independence, and allow them to become successful and happy people. The truth however was that what it actually did was hurt self-esteem, encourage immaturity, and ill prepare children for life in the adult world. What is the answer then, what is the solution, how do we become better parents who love their children not too much and not too little? Lets have an honest look at reality. Love, my dear fellow parents, is really the ultimate form of reward. Our children have to learn – and it is our job to teach them – that their actions have consequences. What more powerful inducement to good action is there for your child than the threat of losing your love? I know I know. A lot of you will almost recoil from that notion. But listen: we all do that EVERY DAY we just don’t realize it…..
I think we should give up on our belief that unconditional love exists. Most things in life have strings attached and love is no different. In reality, you constantly use love to reward or punish your children’s behavior. When you show disapproval toward your children, you are actually showing them that your love can be momentarily withheld, that your love is, in fact, conditional. For example, you probably do not act lovingly when your children are disobedient, selfish, whiny, or are cruel to their siblings. Are you truly withholding your love in these situations? Probably not; you still love them. But children are not sophisticated enough to tell the difference between “We disapprove of your behavior” and “Because of what you did, we are taking away our love.” Your child’s perception is that love has been temporarily suspended. To your child, it feels like, “I did something wrong and my parents don’t love me now.” Why do you think parenting experts tell you that, after you have given your children a time-out, you must tell them how much you love them? So don’t recoil. Instead, learn how to do it right. There are many books out there for you to read if you are interested – check this out: Parenthood
How To Do It Right
After the reversal of the Sixties and Seventies many children were lazy, disinterested, and out of control. These children weren’t good people and they weren’t successful or happy. Clearly, a change needed to be made and many did; the wrong one. Again 🙁 Perhaps because of the economic uncertainty in recent decades, parents decided to direct their conditional love toward their children’s achievement activities, believing that this approach would motivate their children to work hard, become successful, and overcome the difficult economic times. Parents began to make their love conditional on how their children performed in school. If Johnny got an A, his parents heaped love, attention, and gifts on him. When he received a D, they withdrew their love by expressing disappointment, hurt, embarrasment or anger. As a result, children’s self-esteem became overly connected to their achievement efforts. This conditional love caused achievement to become threatening to children because success and failure was too intimately linked with whether their parents would love them.
At the same time, parents maintained their unconditional love for their children’s behavior. Parents gave their children unfettered freedom, few responsibilities, didn’t hold them accountable for their actions, provided no consequences, and continued to love them not matter how they behaved – as long as they did well in school, it didn’t matter if the children were spoiled brats!
WE as parents must reverse our use of unconditional and conditional love. You need to give your children unconditional love for their achievements so that they will be free from the fear that you will not love them if they fail to meet your expectations. This unconditional love will liberate your children from the specter of lost love and encourage them to give their best effort and achieve the highest level of which they are capable.
At the same time, you can encourage your children’s achievement efforts by using conditional love for the values and attributes that will help them succeed, for example, in school, sports, and the performing arts. When you use conditional love to instill essential qualities, such as hard work, discipline, patience, persistence, and perseverance, you then give them the tools to achieve their goals.
Similarly, you should make your love conditional on whether your children behave like decent human beings, namely, they act on healthy values such as honesty, kindness, respect, and responsibility. If your children behave poorly, they know that you will withdraw your love-at least temporarily. If they behave well, they know that you will give your love. In time, your children will learn to internalize this healthy conditional love and it will guide them in acting in ethical ways.
Love, be a guide, a good example, a pillar of safety and strength …. but is that what our children would experience as us being “good parents” ?
I asked my daughter today what makes or doesn’t make us good mothers. These were her somewhat surprising answers:
- to do a lot of really nice things with them
- to allow them a lot of “electricity” – meaning tablets, television, smart phones etc
- to allow them to have pets, preferably many
- to laugh a lot with your children and make jokes with them
- to cook a lot of tasty stuff, preferably with your kids helping you
- to give them pocket money
- to go shopping with your daughter
- give them the space they need (she meant their own rooms)
- don’t be too strict with your children
- sit down with your daughter and together with her think of nice stories to tell to other children
- play nice games with each other
- she claimed that other stuff would be more important to our son or boys in general 😉 : give them great weapons (toys), let them climb trees, let them fight with other boys because they really love that. And finally if your kid has pain you should take care of him/her straight away instead of just ignoring him/her or tell him/her to man up!
She did assure me that we provide all of that so I guess we’re doing an OK job 🙂
Look, to conclude this long post I can give you one piece of advice: look to your kids for the answer to the question whether you are a good parent or not. Our kids are not the center of my universe. I don’t put their needs before ours and neither do we put them before our relationship as a couple because we strongly believe that we can be better parents if we are happy, content people who get to have adult time, who get to have ME time, who get to have uniterrupted US time as a couple. We love our kids. I would go to any lengths to protect them and keep them safe and happy. I spoil them way too much and I give in way too often 😉 but I also correct them, keep them in check and occassionally yell at them when they go past every single limit. I clean their butts if they don’t manage themselves, no probs; and occassionally they are allowed in the shower with me or the bath; but I don’t want them using my towel or my toiletries, and rooms like our bedroom or dressing room or OFF LIMITS to them (except for the Weekend Mornings cuddling ritual). They don’t ever sleep in our bed. I love them but I am and will always be an individual with individual needs that I am neither willing nor able to give up for my kids. Our children know without a single inkling of a doubt that they are loved and protected. And yeah, it is one of the greatest feelings in the world if they hug me and tell me that they love me. I didn’t have to sacrifice myself for that. So my advice is: love them but more than that, love yourself and your partner. Love being a parent and devote yourself to it but never at the cost of yourself or your marriage. And never ever feel guilty about that! You will be “better” parents for it!
If you have any questions or comments please feel free to leave them below. Happy parenting and thanks for reading!