What do people get dead wrong about parenting?
There seems to be an assumption that there is a right and wrong way to parent and we make lots and lots of judgements every day about what is right and wrong. We beat ourselves up as parents, pass judgment on others and tut in disgust as a clearly bad parent loses it in the supermarket with their screaming four year old.
But who died and made us parenting God? Who put us in charge?
That is the biggest thing that we get wrong about parenting – that there is a right way to do it.
There is no notebook that can tell you exactly what to do in each moment because each child, each parent, and each situation is different. I stick two fingers up to the right way to parent and kick it from her to kingdom come. Sod you right way!
What we all have though is our way, the way we want to be as a parent, the child we want to raise. Only when we know this then can we look at the actions we are taking and ask if they are taking us in the right direction, not if they are right or wrong but if they are moving us towards what we want. If they aren't we have a choice to change them or carry on knowing they are leading us down a path we said we didn’t want to take. But the heartbreaking thing here is that most parents don’t even ask these questions of themselves because they are too busy looking for the right way as defined by everyone else.
The next thing we are dead wrong about parenting is that it is about control of even the illusion that a good parent is in control. Fundamentally when you delve into it, most parenting books and practices comes from an element of control, a false belief that we can control our child through punishments, bribes, rewards and all other kinds of things that essentially all add up to us the parent controlling the actions of the child. If we come from the assumption that we can control our child then our parenting will never work because you cannot control another person whatsoever. Go on, give it try and see how miserable you both end up. All we can ever control is ourselves and how we react to any given situation. I know it sucks, right, it means we have to take responsibility for ourselves, but like it or not it is true. Parenting that comes from a control place sets us up for very difficult times when our children get older. It might be easy to control a two-year-old with bribes and naughty steps, but when you child gets to 10, 13, 15 what are you going to do then? Sure we can bring them up to make positive decisions and choices, we can influence decisions, we can make it clear what is and isn't acceptable but we can never control them and we may just drive ourselves mad trying to do so.
When I read some of the parenting advice out there I often wonder if we think we are parenting robots! We seem to hold our children to much higher standards then we would ever hold ourselves. We expect our child to be happy all the time, expect them to be delighted about doing chores, speak to us joyfully when they have come home from a difficult day at school, and we expect them to always say yes instantly when we ask them to do something. We don’t have robots in front of us; we have living, breathing, thinking, stressed, confused, excited human beings who have good days and bad days.
We should stop thinking about parenting as something that we do to a person and start to think about parenting as a journey between us and our child, taken towards a destination; how we get there doesn't particular matter as long as we are both unscathed by the end.