Is it just me, or does anyone else spend a lot of time worrying about how bad they are as a parent? There are those brief and rare respites of about five minutes every three months when everybody in the house seems content and peaceful, and you feel like you’re getting somewhere as a parent, but then the rest of the time is punctuated with disagreements, sulks, arguments, fights or simply undercurrents of tension. I suppose the more children you have, the more opportunities there are available to you to realise how much you actually do fail at being caring and calm and firm and loving and consistent.
So what standards do we set for ourselves to live up to? How do we decide what it is that makes a parent good? Of course, it might only be me, but I have a slight suspicion that I’m not alone in this. Perhaps it’s something to do with conflict, how much of it there is within the family, and how it is fed by external pressures on the parents and the children. Let’s face it, home is the only place where you can completely relax, where all the tension you’ve carried during the day drains away or gets passed on to someone else.
I know that when I haven’t managed conflict with the children well (which I must confess is most of the time) my confidence in my parenting ability plummets off the scale and deep down into the murky depths. But I also spend time doubting whether I’m offering them the right amount of independent activity and of time I spend with them; whether they’re physically active enough; whether they’re watching too much television; whether they feel able to tell me if anything’s upsetting them; whether the way I discipline them (when I actually am to some extent feeling calm and in control) is appropriate to their personalities…oh the list is endless. Slightly disconcerting is the fact that the more time I spend worrying about how I am with the children, the more my anxiety will affect my relationships with them!
I wonder where these ideas come from about what it takes to be a good parent. I would hazard a guess that how I was parented, the media, and conversations with other parents could be the main influences, and as I look at the list in the previous paragraph they all seem very worthy aspects of parenthood to be concerned about. But why worry about them? Perhaps the loss of confidence through badly managed conflict is the catalyst for these things beginning to feel like a burden. But it doesn’t make sense to try and avoid conflict, because that means shoving our anxieties and stresses in a suitcase and hiding it in the attic. Eventually the suitcase is going to explode and make an awful mess. Perhaps it’s possible that conflict could be transformed from something negative to something positive, a way for me to become closer to the children. It could be a case of recognising the fights before they’ve even begun. Not in order to head them off at the pass, but to start working through them before stress or tension has escalated beyond the point of peaceful resolution. Easy as pie!
I have a feeling this is one of those unanswerable questions. Apart from anything else, every generation has different expectations of its parents, so the criteria for being a ‘good’ parent changes fairly rapidly. The ability to discern whether each criterion is of real value is hard-won, yet I suspect having confidence in what you are working towards is strong currency for anyone trying to be the best parent they can for their children. Perhaps there is the starting point for carrying parental confidence over and through the times of conflict that are a natural part of family life.
Anyone else got any ideas?