News & Views
from   The Parenting Center at Abington

     Parents sometimes ask themselves, "Why does it seem so hard to be a good parent today? Was it always this difficult?" I think it is harder to be what is deemed a "good" parent today because the standards for "good parenting" have changed dramatically in the last few years.

 Thirty or more years ago, good parents were those who provided for their children and taught them to be mannerly, respectful, responsible. Parents worked to protect their children from the dangers of the world, and worried about the basics, such as food and shelter. Were their children dressed properly, did they sit up straight, did they go to the dentist every six months?

 Successful parents produced children who behaved properly, whose outward appearance was the yardstick by which to measure the job the parents were doing. Little was known about one’s inner emotional world and how it grew during one’s childhood.

 Then along came new information about growth and development. Not just about how children should grow physically, but how they should grow socially, emotionally, intellectually. In a relatively short span of time – twenty or so years -- there was an explosion of theories and with them came new awarenesses for parents. And with these new awarenesses came new stresses and pressures on parents, not just to produce children who behaved properly, but who are emotionally and relationally healthy as well. It may be possible to have well-behaved and compliant children but now parents are encouraged to consider at what price did they achieve that superficial result. We can sacrifice both our children’s positive feelings about themselves and a healthy relationship with our children while we are forcing them to bend to our will.

 This new information helps to explain why it can feel so overwhelming at times to be a "good" parent today. No longer do we just consider whether we are raising children who behave properly, although this is important. While we are doing that, we need to simultaneously protect their budding self-esteem. We need to provide emotional nurturance and also provide structure and discipline to teach them to be responsible and caring, still keeping their emotional well-being intact. And while we can visually determine that a child is behaving properly, we cannot see or easily measure how healthy his or her inner world is. Questions parents might ask that focus on nurturing emotional health are: “How can I help my child. . .

    - feel confident?”

    - believe in him or herself?”

    - feel safe and secure?”

    - deal with stress and crisis?”

 Add to that the relational health parents are also hoping to create, including such things as building trust, love, safety, a sense of caring, concern and commitment between themselves and their children. We need to instill the qualities of emotionally healthy relationships in our children by both teaching and modeling them. This is not an easy goal to achieve when we think about who modeled and taught us and how healthy was what we were taught. And again, how will we know if we have done a good enough job? The relational health of an individual is even harder to measure than his or her emotional health. Questions parents might ask that focus on building a healthy parent/child relationship are: “How can I . . ..

    - encourage open communication between us?” encourage open communication between us?”

    - build trust and safety between us?”

    - help my child be trustworthy in relationships?”

    - keep us close even when there are conflicts?”

 This concept of our responsibilities as parents can be likened to an iceberg. We can see the tip, which is the outward behaviors. Under the surface, providing the support and strength to those outward behaviors is the emotional and relational health of each child. These are the foundations we want to build so that our children can best cope in the world and so that we will more likely see the behaviors we want in our children.

 Was parenting easier for previous generations? It was harder to ensure physical health before we had vaccines and antibiotics. Parents had children die more frequently. But today we are more aware of the importance of providing emotional and relational health to our children even though we are usually not given specific skills and the necessary information to do these jobs well – and there is no shot to administer once or twice a year to accomplish the task! So you aren’t crazy if you think this is an incredibly overwhelming job!

 It can be very helpful, though, if parents can keep these three pieces of parental responsibility in mind as they interact with their children, and use them as guidelines as they make decisions about how they want to parent – not only do we want to encourage certain behaviors, but we also want to maintain our children’s self-esteem as well as a loving and trusting relationship with them.

By: Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Education Network’s Parenting Resource and Education Network

April 2001
Vol. 3/Issue 6

A publication from The Parenting Center at Abington
P.O. Box 596, Abington, PA 19001 (215) 576-0586

Printing of this newsletter is courtesy of the Abington Memorial Hospital.

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