The key to good parenting

I was recently asked what makes a good parent. You can fill a library – a thousand libraries – with the possible answers, so I could have gone on about patience, tolerance, a sense of humour, imposing boundaries, being consistent, enjoying the moment, and all those other nuggets of wisdom, if I wasn’t sure that most people already know these things.

Instead, to save you the time and the eye-strain, I can sum up what makes a good parent in just two words: emotional resilience. Everything else stems from that.

I think that society is very confused about what a good parent looks like. The parent with the perfectly behaved, adorable little angel of a child is lauded as ‘good’, while that with the bratty, obnoxious little oik they have to drag out of the supermarket because they’re screaming is judged as ‘bad’. I know, because I have done this myself, inferring the relative merits of the parent from a brief glimpse at the behaviour of their child.

But this is, in fact, a very unreliable method of gauging an individual’s parenting ability, because all kids are different – some are easy, most are a mixture of tranquil and testing, and some are right little bastards who, in an earlier generation, would have been destined for birch and borstal. It’s not so much the behaviour of the child but the behaviour of the parent that reveals their abilities or otherwise.

You see, being a good parent isn’t about succeeding when things are going well, the toddler’s perfectly happy and everything is hunky-dory – those are the times to sit back, relax and bask in the glow of strangers who deem you the very model of a perfect parent.

No, the real test of your parenting prowess is what you do, and how well you cope, when things are going horribly, horribly wrong, the little one is screaming fit to burst her lungs, and you want nothing more than to run away, find a dark place where you can curl into a ball, and hide away as you ride out the storm. That’s when you discover whether you’re a good parent or not, and that’s when you find whether you have the strength to rise up in the face of adversity – or not, as the case may be.

Being a parent, you’re tested every day. What your toddler loves to eat on Monday she decides is vomit on Tuesday, no matter how long it took you to make. At home on Wednesday she’s as good as gold while on Thursday at the restaurant she behaves so badly you have to leave early in defeat. And on Friday she’s using the potty like a pro, but on Saturday pisses on the sofa and then craps on your shoe, and she’s so upset, you break your heart trying to console her.

The hours of crying, the thrown toys, the irritating whining, the tiredness, the dressing and redressing, the bathing and washing, the repetitive game playing, the incessant highs and lows and successes and failures, the constant battle of wills and the endless sacrificing of your own hunger, thirst, wants, needs, dreams – it is so difficult not to be affected by all that, not to get run down.

That’s what I mean by emotional resilience. If you want to be a good parent, want to keep going in the same calm, controlled, reliable fashion you’ve done from the start, you have to find a way of protecting your emotions, shutting off a part of yourself, so as not to become overwhelmed. If you let things get to you, if they weigh heavy on your heart, you’re never going to make it.

As I said before, emotional resilience is pretty much all you need to be a good parent, because it is the foundation of everything. Nobody sets out to be a bad parent – nobody decides they want to lose their temper at their kids, shout at them, hit them, make them cry; nobody thinks one day they’ll start to ignore their child, sit them in front of the TV, dump them with family and child minders and start hiding at work; nobody plans to simply give up and overlook their child’s bad behaviour because they can’t deal with it, or give them the chocolate bar because it’s easier than arguing, or leave them in nappies till they’re five because it’s just too hard – but I’m sure we’ve all seen examples of these behaviours.

Hell, I went to a fair yesterday, and I saw most of them – parents losing control and swearing at their kids, parents looking the other way as their kids misbehaved, parents buying things for the kids to stop them whining – anything for an easy life. I don’t believe these parents started out this way. I don’t believe they ever thought they’d be like this. But somewhere along the way, they’ve become so run down by being parents that they’re just trying to survive – and good parenting has gone out the window.

In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter if your child is well behaved or not. In the grand scheme of things, all your mistakes as a parent, all your failures, aren’t anywhere near as important as you think they are. What’s important is that you never stop trying to be a good parent; that you persevere, no matter how difficult; and that despite wanting to run away, or give in, or give up, you don’t, don’t, don’t. That’s the only way you can be a good parent. And ultimately, your child will be all the better for it.

 

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Child Protection Issues

Long term readers of this blog might have noticed that, up until Izzie’s first birthday, I regularly shared pictures on this site, but have not done so in the past year. This was a deliberate decision, and I shall explain why.

Putting photographs in an album or in a frame for display ensures that you retain control of them – who has access to them, what is done with them, and where they are seen. Putting pictures on the internet means that you have zero control over what is done with that image. As Izzie is too young to give informed consent over what is shared, that right passes to me as her father and legal guardian, and in this capacity I feel it is my duty to protect her image and prevent it being placed in the public domain until she is able to make that decision for herself.

I am not inflexible on this position – I do, for example, allow a few, carefully selected professional photos of my daughter to accompany magazine articles, etc. – but in general, sharing pictures of our day-to-day life is not something I feel comfortable doing.

I am sure that, without my having to explicitly state it, most readers will be able to infer which people I don’t want having access to my daughter’s photographs.

Whenever I have seen such issues raised – keeping photos of children away from the attention of people who might wish them harm – there is always somebody who pipes up with: ‘Most abuse goes on inside the home by family members or trusted friends and neighbours.’ And this is undoubtedly true. And then there are others who say: ‘We can’t censor everything just because there are some sickoes out there.’ Which I also agree with – hence I allow the aforementioned professional photos to illustrate magazine articles.

But the fact remains that, while the risk is low, there are predators out there. While I commend people for continuing to share photos because they won’t let the sickoes dictate their behaviour, as a dad I do not want some disturbed individual looking at pictures of my child, because I know that they are.

How do I know this? One of the interesting benefits of writing a blog is that you receive information about visitors to your site – anonymous, of course, but it records what country they’re from, what they’re clicking on, how they came to your site, and so forth. Every so often, you’ll even get to see the search terms they typed into a search engine – the very words they entered that brought up your page in the results.

I always think of myself as pretty unshockable, but the search terms somebody used to find and access this blog yesterday made me feel sick. I won’t repeat them here, but I will say that they contained the words ‘dad’ and ‘little girl’, and whoever typed them needs to be on a watch list somewhere. That such a person has visited my site makes me feel grubby by association and more than validates my caution about sharing pictures.

So, to all my fellow parents and bloggers who might read this: take a moment and think before you share something. Probably no harm will come from it; probably no sick weirdo pervert is ever going to see it; but no matter how small a chance, perhaps they might.