What Does It Mean To Be A Confident Parent?
I have a confession to make.
I don't think parents need as much guidance in their parenting skills as they think they do. What they really need is reassurance and support in becoming more confident in their parenting.
I wrote a lot this week about the emotional experience of being a parent and relating to the children, but most of these things apply to all of our relationships.
Children need confident parents. This sets an example for them and helps them go through life making their own judgments and growing into emotionally mature adults.
Here is what's worth remembering when practicing confident parenting:
1. The majority is not always right
Parents face immense social pressure to do things the way that's perceived to be best by 'general opinion' or major media. The fear of being rejected by the group or our child not being accepted pushes us into the arms of group thinking, which is unfortunately far from rational reasoning and even further away from what's best for our children. Don't worry about others so much - think about what's best for you and your family and act accordingly. If it happens to be against the mainstream, then so be it. People who you care about will respect you for being honest and authentic. I have a friend who brought his child up as a vegetarian many years ago, when it was very unusual. Today, many people realise the benefits of a non-meat diet, and you can get vegetarian food everywhere. Today's outsiders are often tomorrow's leaders!
2. Experts are not always right
It's important to listen to experts but try to apply their advice with caution; think critically about what they say. Does their advice actually apply to you? Does it fit with your system of values? Does it make you feel incompetent and uncertain? If so, stop listening and summarise what you know from your experience. Remember: you know your child and you are capable of making the best decision. Also, experts argue - there is often one expert proving this by research and another proving the opposite. We have to find a way through the mass data presented to us. At the centre of this should be our own common sense.
3. Reach out for support
Social and family support are very important aspects of being a parent. Don't feel guilty or inadequate if you don't know what to do. You have the right to feel vulnerable and to seek help. In every crisis there is a potential for finding more creative ways of doing things (it's often through crisis that our children achieve next stages of development). Just think, who can help you to figure it out? Having a trusted person, outside the immediate family, who will give you helpful feedback can challenge your thinking. Can you be like this for your friends too?
4. Let your children be themselves
Children can be great teachers of authenticity, if only we let them express themselves the way they like, rather than expecting them to perform the role of the perfect child. This particularly applies to gender - we often try to get boys to perform like boys should and girls to perform like girls should - what about letting them just play as they want to play?
5. Don't be too hard on yourself
The vast majority of parents are doing fantastic work, taking care of their children. When things get tough don't be too hard on yourself, don't judge yourself too much. Parenting is demanding and joyful at the same time. No parent is perfect. The best we can do is keep giving love, providing emotional support and staying in touch with reality; prioritise what's best for your children and watch your confidence grow!
Agata Western is a Psychologist at Balancing Parents, mum and trainer specialising in life-long learning and personal development. She facilitates parenting workshops, which promote the understanding of emotional experience of parenting. Next workshop: Galway, June 5.