The Measure of a Good Parent Isn’t What You Think It Is

The Measure of a Good Parent Isn’t What You Think It Is June 7, 2016

HidingIf you missed it, please check out an excellent essay posted May 31 by Patheos blogger Libby Anne over at Love, Joy, Feminism. The post is titled “She seems to have turned out pretty well!” and refers to a comment made by the blogger’s mother — a comment that got under said blogger’s skin, and for good damn reason.

As Libby Anne tells us, her mother wasn’t just strict with her as child; she was authoritarian to the point of abuse. And her mom’s flippant, “turned-out-pretty-well” remark was made at a social gathering as a way to justify her parenting style and to downplay the effect it had on Libby Anne, who writes:

This is why my mother and I can’t have a normal relationship. She knows full well that I am not okay with the way she disciplined me as a child, and that I am intentionally doing things differently with my own children. We’ve clashed many times over this. And yet she says things like this.

It’s not just her, though. Abusive and authoritarian parents across a wide spectrum frequently use how well their children turned out as justification for their parenting methods.

So, so true. When you think about it, it really is a bit ridiculous. Not just because, as Libby Anne points out, people can turn out well despite what their parents did to them, not necessarily because of it. But it’s also flawed conclusion because the assumption that a person “turned out well” is almost always based on external traits or conditions.

That is, when we say someone “turned out well,” it’s generally a judgment that refers things like his or her likability, graciousness, morality, monetary success or relationship status — rather than a true reflection of how he or she feels about themselves.

Most people are very likable — at least situationally. Most people hold down jobs and are dedicated to their families. Most people have something wonderful to offer the world. In other words, it’s very easy for us parents to congratulate ourselves on jobs well done when we’re judging the results by our children’s public personas or personal accomplishments.

The things we don’t see, though, are the better measures of our parenting techniques: their inside lives. And, for that, we have to be willing to dig and we have to be willing to listen. Because we can’t see people’s low self-esteem or their negative self-talk. We don’t necessarily witness their struggles — their daily, silent struggles — to overcome the subtle traumas of their youth. People’s feelings of isolation, disconnection and unworthiness are not always obvious.

Our children’s inside lives — that’s where our failures breath.

I’m not trying to be overly dramatic (or overly critical) here. Parenting is hard and complicated. No one is going to excel in every area; all parents are going to need forgiveness — and probably a lot if it! — sooner or later. All of our kids are going to need therapy for something.

Still, authoritarian parenting has serious negative consequences. Our voices (our kind, loving, patient, demanding, critical, condescending voices) will echo in our children’s minds for the rest of their lives; how we talk to them and treat them now is precisely how they will talk to and treat themselves later.

Whether our kids are polite or well-behaved; whether they go to Harvard; whether they land a decent job; whether they have a cool car or a house on the beach — these may give us bragging rights in certain circles, but they aren’t yardsticks of our parenting prowess.

And the sooner we recognize that, the better.

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