“Motherhood had been very real, very quotidian [ordinary], a primal human relationship, full of devotion and effort and strain, fraught with bitter calculation and the intimate battle of wills.”
– from Holy Fire by Bruce Sterling

“The realities of well-intentioned workaholic households don’t always favor healthy child-rearing”
– Mike Linderman

We spend a lot of time worrying about parenting & thinking about how to be a good parent. Unfortunately there is a current fad in overprotection. So a well intentioned parent believes that wiping your 6 1/2 year old’s butt is a loving thing to do instead of recognizing it’s one more interruption on the road to greater confidence & independence.

Parenting well means knowing that kids need to be uncomfortable to face their fears & grow. The experience of making mistakes is the way you learn the most. If kids live inside a giant ball of comfort and don’t suffer any disappointment they aren’t prepared for real life. When every kid on a team gets a trophy they have false expectations of their value.

Parenting the first four years of life are so important that Judith Wallerstein, a child psychologist with thirty years in divorce research, doesn’t recommend divorce when kids are toddlers. (Wallerstein also discourages divorce at age twelve due to the onset of adolescence. She was quoted in Time magazine on April 14th, 2003, “No Fault Divorce?”)

Walking by the fountain at Chautauqua Institution, I overheard a mother with her toddler: “Promise me you will love your brother Charley forever and ever. Promise you will always share with Charley etc.” It is bad parenting, to extract impossible promises. Good parenting would be if she truly could see her daughter instead of her own agenda, she might say more authentically: “I know it’s really hard to share your toys, Charley is younger than you and needs more help.” First acknowledge her daughter’s truth, then what benefits Charley.

Acknowledging where people are first, before requiring the good deed would be more authentic parenting than what really amounts to a “guilt trip.”

The most important thing you can do as a parent if you’ve made a dreadful mistake, is to acknowledge the truth. The truth is the path that authenticity and trust builds on. I apologize more than anybody in our family (my kids say that’s because I need to most often). My son apologizes the least, but it’s not from a lack of role modeling on my part. Step up to the plate and acknowledge when you overreact instead of pretending it’s forgotten.

We all have our strengths and weaknesses in parenting. So many believe going to therapy means blaming mom or dad. In reality, personal therapy is about understanding a more accurate picture of who we are. What are the strengths, weaknesses and missing parts?

A majority of families have things they do well, combined with dysfunctional parts. This is why the African saying, “It takes a village to raise a child,” is such a healthy idea. It is impossible for any of us to do all the parts of parenting well every year.

Therapy is a way of putting a picture together in order to feel more whole to be better at parenting. In 2003, I attended a workshop with Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., an authority on brain research as it relates to parenting, he said the #1 factor in poor parenting is the group of parents who had poor childhoods themselves and who didn’t solve making their childhood pain bearable.

He has a terrific book designed to increase thoughtfulness about this called Parenting from the Inside Out , co-authored with Mary Hartzel.

If you are divorced and parenting, do not buddy up with your kids against the other parent. Kids really need both of you. Splitting kids’ loyalties is an emotionally dangerous business. Parenting means it’s important to go so far as to acknowledge your spouse’s strengths, and to be specific so it’s more real.

Even though sex education may make you very uncomfortable it is really important to offer to your children in good parenting. A useful book on sex that is written for younger children and is delightful would be “Where Did I Come From? ” by Peter Mayle.

Overprotection is Really a Bad Idea

One of the many wonderful aspects about raising children is that elegant dance of knowing what’s important combined with letting go and not knowing. The not knowing leaves room for respecting their choices as different from your own ideas of who they should be. Too many parents stifle and interrupt children’s abilities to make their own mistakes and their own choices.

According to Hanna Rosin in Atlantic Monthly, “In the past generation, the rising preoccupation with children’s safety has transformed childhood, stripping it of independence, risk-taking, and discovery. What’s been gained is unclear: rates of injury have remained fairly steady since the 1970s, and abduction by strangers was as rare then as it is now. What’s been lost is creativity, passion, and courage. Now a countermovement is arising, based on mounting evidence that today’s parenting norms do children more harm than good.”

There really is something to be said about choosing your own playmates instead of being scheduled, the boredom of all the “safe” playgrounds and the lack of respect for kids developing their own skills of independence by making mistakes & facing difficult choices. A child pays a big price is paid for safety to create comfort for parents.

It is impossible to achieve personal growth without being uncomfortable.

Learning Problems & Parenting

When challenges are either too great or too simple, kids struggle with learning. The skills they develop must equal the challenges they face. It’s important to understand difference in learning and Dr. Mel Levine has a terrific web site at All Kinds of Minds, that parents should seek out. He also has a book called, The Myth of Laziness: How Kids and Parents Can Become More Productive .


About the Rhoda Mills Sommer