Parenthood is a fascinating time for most of us – great challenges, plenty of learning and an invitation to sleepless nights. With excitement and the very best of intentions, we set out on the quest to become the perfect parent.
Is it hard work? Absolutely! Even more so in today’s world where we are all more connected to each other than we have ever been before. All of us, regardless of which generation we belong to, have more awareness of the world around us. Over the years, we’ve had to move with the times and to be a good parent we need to adapt to more than just a hands-on childcare approach.
As parents, we still hold ourselves to certain standards of perfection when evaluating our parenting performance and when our children do not match up to our perception of perfection, it may feel as if our world is falling apart. All the sweat and blood gone into raising a child seems to be in vain and we cannot help feeling a failure as a parent. Every time the child next door do better at school, we raise the bar even higher for our children and every time our child makes a mistake, we desperately start looking for quick fixes that will make us feel perfect and adequate in our given roles again.
Karl Pillemer, in his Psychology Today blog post, reiterates this by saying that we hold children to impossible standards, comparing them to idealized well-behaved, hard-working youngsters who exist in our imaginations alone. It has become somewhat of a cliché which only leads to a more strained parent-child relationship in future; very different from the vision of perfect parenting we start with. We don’t realise that in the pursuit of being the perfect parent, our child’s individuality gets overlooked and we fail to accept them for who they are.
In line with modern practices, some parents try to provide their children with all that they need to explore and experiment. To get closer to our children, they may tilt towards friendship and companionship more than parenthood but when a child looks for a friend in their parent, s/he loses the subconscious connection with the parent. The first bond a child feels, from the time of conception, is that of a parent which enables them to gain trust in love and relationships as it grows older. Having lost the connection with parents for any reason can result in a child finding him/herself alone with a lack of trust and confidence in the world around. The impact of such lost connections is being realised more in the younger generation now through the increasing frustration, aggression, confusion and resentment against parents we are now witnessing. In my coaching capacity, I am now coming across an alarmingly increasing number of young people with feelings of rejection and not being heard. It is heartbreaking to see parents after having done whatever is in their reach to provide the best for their children, struggling to be even acknowledged and accepted by their children. So, where do we go wrong?
We all belong to specific family systems and regardless of how much we dispute or despise our parents’ parenting approach, we subconsciously end up replicating the same behaviours as them when we become parents. We find ourselves questioning our parenting choices when we encounter tantrums, resistance, aggression, disconnection, disobedience and other negative emotions from our children. These are no doubt testing times for all parents and it is not until we, as parents, start recognising negative emotions as an opportunity to connect with our children that we can allow them to heal and grow. It is only when we become conscious of our children’s individual emotional needs, we start making the right parenting choices. We get a step closer to raising emotionally intelligent children when we start listening and showing compassion, love and empathy against negative emotions they are experiencing.
April Eldemire, at the Gottman Institute, differentiates between the dos and don’ts of raising emotionally intelligent children and highlights that
Negative emotions are age-appropriate and eventually subside as children grow. By disregarding feelings of a child as insignificant or using words that send the signal that what they are feeling is negative, we are in effect sending the message that his/her feelings are inadequate. This damaging perception received at a young tender age can stay with children throughout adulthood and thereby have a ripple effect when they become a parent. It is important to help the child express and put words and meaning to how they are feeling than to label emotions as good or bad based on our perceptions as a parent.
Setting some boundaries is a good way to start building effective relationships with our children. Equipping them with the skills to be independent and giving them the autonomy to find better alternative responses is a great way to teach them that they are capable of self-regulating themselves in a world that may seem unfair and somewhat upsetting. Being a parent is a challenging and never-ending job. In raising emotionally intelligent children who are confident and better able to navigate through the intricacies of life, we need to put our parental ego and adult wisdom aside and allow them to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes knowing we as parents will always have their back.
Parenting doesn’t require perfection! It just needs openness, an empathetic ear to listen, a shoulder to lean on and good intentions; and those are the qualities of a conscious parent. Becoming a perfect parent may sound ambitious but becoming a conscious parent is not.