Am I a good parent? Maybe not perfect. But at least good? Every parent asks this question at least once, more likely every day. Your child’s answer may vary widely depending on when you last let her have dessert. Your best friend will likely give you a positive answer, but the stranger who witnesses your child’s meltdown at the store may be less assuring.
The answer also depends on your definition of a good parent. All too often, parents give me the disclaimer, “I’m not a perfect parent, but…”
So to clear things up from the start, the term perfect parent means nothing to me. I mistrust that term just as much as the one-size-fits-all label. Really? All? That is just impossible.
Good parents come in all shapes and sizes, and I get to meet quite a few of them in parent coaching sessions at my practice. Here are a few questions to help you determine if you are on the right track:
1. Do you shower your child with love?
You should – and the more the better. Please don’t mistake love for things. The latest game system, trendy clothes, a bike with literally all the bells and whistles are pretty sweet from any child’s perspective, but they aren’t love. Love is a hug just because you’re within arm’s reach, a lap that’s available, smooches that end in giggles, and the message, spoken in a hundred ways, that “You are my favorite person and I’ll love you forever, no matter what.” No one can receive too much of that kind of boundless love, and children are little sponges waiting to soak up enough to carry them through their lifetimes.
2. Are you involved in your child’s life?
It seems our lives are busier every day. In a majority of families, both parents work outside the home. Once work is done, there’s everything in the home to take care of – kitchens to clean, grass to cut, an endless supply of dirty laundry and dirty dishes, unmade beds, and pets. Oh, and work emails that can be accessed on your phone. And if you are a stay-at-home parent, you wear so many hats, you can’t even keep up half the time.
Meanwhile, your kids have lives that they shouldn’t be living on their own. Showing up at the recital or the game or the school meeting is just the beginning. Are you the parent who joins in the neighborhood baseball game, or sits on the floor to try to fit a baby doll into a Barbie dress, or shows your child and her friends the ins-and-outs of musical chairs?
Scheduling twenty to thirty minutes a day of complete attention for your child is priceless. Younger children will invite you to play, older children might talk your head off. These are moments that your child will remember, even if you can’t be that parent that seems to always be available to volunteer at functions.
3. Are you consistent?
No means no and yes means yes. It’s ironic that kids have such a need for boundaries and are so masterful at squeezing past them. Children’s parents are their bedrock, and you jointly set reliable boundaries that make their world understandable.
If you are co-parenting, both of you will not always agree on rules and boundaries. And that’s okay! Because no two people can always agree on everything. Children observe how you treat each other. Are you and your partner respectful of each others’ views? Can you enforce a rule that you may not agree with? When a reward is promised, do you follow through?
Most parents struggle with this. Remember, we don’t strive for perfection! Just overall, do what is humanly possible to provide structure and consistency that give your child predictability.
And remember, consistency applies to adults, too. Do you live by the same rules of behavior you set for your child? They are watching and will call you out if you aren’t (but you already knew that).
4. Are you respectful of your child?
Your child is under your control and protection until he is an adult, but he is also a human being in his own right. Your child deserves an honest explanation for the rules of your household. He deserves to be a productive member of your family and to be held responsible for his role.
Your respect shows when you listen without interrupting, even when you already know what they are trying to say. You let your kids make some of their own decisions and choices. You recognize their efforts and let them know. The way you treat your child has a huge impact on how they see themselves.
5. Are you fun?
Your child is born with a capacity for joy. Your role is not to dampen that spirit, but to nourish, share, and demonstrate how it can carry into adulthood. Jump and run, dance and sing, and make a mess with your child. Giggle until you’re breathless. Enjoy your time with this precious little companion.
It helps to take some time out of your day to purposefully engage in fun activities with your child (often more fun for them than yourself). Children gain self-worth from knowing that their parents enjoy spending time with them.
Remember, however, that you are not responsible to keep your child entertained 24/7. Many parents express guilt over not spending enough time with their kids. They are surprised when I tell them that recent studies show most kids are content with the amount of time they get with their parents. So remember to balance quantity and quality.
So, do you feel like a good parent?
I hope these five signs of what a good parent looks like give you some validation and perhaps something to work on, too. In a time when parent guilt is rampant, I believe parents are more involved with their children than ever. So often, parents judge themselves over their child’s behavior, even when most of us really are doing our best.