If you are lucky enough to be a parent it is probably the most rewarding and meaningful thing you do in your life. However, as every parent knows bringing up children is tricky and is often about doing your best to get the balance right between conflicting concerns.
Some common examples are :
– Giving treats carries the long term risk of spoiling your child.
– Value of spending time with your child v the need to go out and earn a living.
– Allowing children freedom of expression v need to protect them from danger.
– Providing a loving nurturing environment v the need for boundaries.
Once children know the boundaries and that you are serious about them it provides them with a sense of security.
The fact that every child is different means that text book answers are not possible. What is ‘right’ for one child may not be for another. Therefore we need a principles based approach rather than fixed rules to guide us. Benchmark yourself against the following:
Financial provision for the family. It can be convenient for the parent with a strong work ethic ( query addiction ! ) to justify long working hours as being a financial necessity to provide for his/her family. Some questions to consider :
– Do your children ever complain about the amount of time you spend at work?
– How materialistic are you – test your values?
– Do you say to yourself that long working hours are only for a ‘few years’ If so, is this likely to happen ( honestly!) ? Remember early formative years are very important and special for children (and parents), you don’t want to miss out on them.
–What are your financial priorities – self or family?
Family time. You will say that you love your children ( and you do) but your children will judge what you love by how you allocate your time. If you spend more time on personal pursuits than on family activities they will judge that you love these activities more than them !
Quality time. Quality time is about being present to their world and listening ( not pretending to listen, while your mind is elsewhere) to what they are saying and the feelings and challenges they are experiencing. Sharing in the fun of an activity may be all they need.
They will look for answers but you don’t have to be all knowing. Be honest but selective in what you say based on their stage of development and what they need to know. They have a right to their childhood, unburdened by ‘adult stuff’.
Spending quality time with your children may take practice if you are not used to giving this kind of attention. Remember as well that it is not all one way. You will be surprised what you will learn from your children . They are far more perceptive than you think, and will be honest in their observations, if you give them space and encouragement to say what is on their minds and in their hearts.
Supportive behaviour. Do you show appreciation for what your children do, even if their efforts/achievements fall short of some standard of behaviour in your head? Be aware that ‘shoulds’, ‘musts’ and comparisons will be received as criticism and will underrmine their self esteem. Do you take the time to understand who they are or do you have preconceived ideas about what you want them to be eg in terms of career ? We can so easily fall into the trap of imposing our own agenda on children. They may go along with your wishes to please you, as every child wants to be loved by their parents. Overall, ask yourself how ‘unconditional’ is your love for your children.
It may seem surprising but the best thing you can do for your children in terms of your parenting role is improve your own self awareness. Reflect on your own childhood – the values, beliefs and behaviours that were passed onto you by your parents. Go through the list and modify/eliminate the behaviours that are not conducive to good parenting. For example, if your parents were highly critical you need to be aware that you will tend to repeat this patterns unless we are aware of them. Of course, we also need to be aware of the risk of over compensation – ‘ I will give my children what I did not have myself ‘ rather than what they actually need.
Don’t use this article as an opportunity to beat yourself up for being a bad parent – it is just a checklist to help you identify where you might do better. We always do the best we can based on the awareness we have at any point in time.