Fears of being tried and found wanting are rampant these days, perhaps nowhere so much as in parenting. The idea that we are solely responsible for our children’s choices has many parents trapped in anxiety or false guilt. I’ll tell you how to give your own kids the best chance of growing up happy, resilient, hardworking, and generous-hearted—if you promise not to use the list as a whip to beat yourself whenever you don’t get the ideal exactly right.
Promise? Okay, here are the key elements of being the best parent you can be:
Don’t just assume that your kids know you love them: say it on a regular basis, especially after they’ve behaved in ways that displease you. If you talk exclusively about their behavior—or, worse, regularly say “You are such a good/bad kid” (vs. “That was a wonderful/terrible thing you did”), they’ll internalize the idea that they’re loved only when they get things right, and they’ll be reluctant to confide in you when they most need moral support.
Be warned: most kids who believe in parents’ unconditional love go through “testing the limits” phases. If your child suddenly seems incorrigible, it may be a sign you’re doing something right.
Even heads of houses should give as well as receive respect. Listen to your kids with both ears and both eyes. Give them some say in chore assignments and house rules (they may take more responsibility when allowed the privilege of decision). If you dreamed of raising a young athlete and your child would rather join the chess club, give her chess game your blessing. And whatever you do, don’t be the nit-picking parent who can’t see beyond the missing 1% of a 99% score.
Don’t, however, go to the opposite extreme and become the parent who lets children do anything they please, denies them nothing they demand, and still makes their beds when they’re in high school. Not only does this result in bratty, “entitled” offspring, it actually hurts self-esteem. Human nature craves rules and boundaries, feeling that “If no one cares what I do, no one cares about me.”
To find the line between overindulgence and over-strictness:
In conclusion, I reiterate: don’t berate yourself for every tiny mistake or blame yourself for everything your child doesn’t get quite right. Give yourself some of that unconditional love, respect, and kind firmness. Just becoming a happier, more self-confident person will make you a better parent!