It’s natural to wonder whether you’re doing a good job as a parent. How can you know?
Before we delve into this question, let’s get one misconception out of the way: You are not responsible for how your child turns out when they are a full-grown adult. You simply do not have control over who your children become, and you are not being fair to yourself or your child if you pretend you do.
Parenting is like gardening. You can be one of the world’s best gardeners, but that does not mean your plants are going to turn out great. You may know everything there is to know about soil and fertilizer and how to care for your plants, but you can’t control the weather. What if a big storm blows in and uproots your plants? Are you a bad gardener? Surely not.
Similarly, you may be a knowledgeable and engaged parent, but your child may still end up with some major problems. It’s possible your child may get addicted to drugs, or lack the self-discipline needed to hold down a job for very long, or lack the skills to maintain vital relationships.
So, repeat after me: “I am not ultimately responsible for how my kid turns out. My kid is.”
This realization is liberating because it will help you be less anxious, and anxiety is an enemy of good parenting.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s reflect on what you do today and how you might improve your parenting. Let me suggest seven questions you should ask of yourself:
1. Are you doing your best to give your child the basics: nutrition, sleep, exercise?
Plants need water, sunlight, and food. Similarly, kids need nutrition, sleep, and exercise. Whether you’re rich or poor, you can ask yourself: Given my situation, am I doing the best I can to provide the conditions for my child to grow and thrive? Are they getting enough fruits and vegetables? Are they getting enough sleep? Do they get enough opportunity to run around and blow off steam?
2. Does your child know you love them unconditionally?
Children grow emotionally and intellectually when they feel safe and accepted. Whether your child is 2 or 15, do they know that you love them to death no matter what — whether they’re behaving well or poorly, whether they performed well or poorly on the athletic field, or whether they got an “A” or an “F” on the test?
3. Are you parenting with kindness and firmness?
For sure, parents have different styles. Some are a little stricter while others are a little more permissive. But if you want to give your child the best shot, you have to find a way to be kind and firm at the same time. Your child needs to feel warmth and respect from you while also receiving regular guidance about what kind of behavior is acceptable and admirable.
4. Are you listening and responding to your child?
Every child is different. To be the best parent you can be, you need to be constantly observing and listening, understanding and responding to your child’s sensitivities, interests, and aspirations. Whether children are 3 or 17, they need to feel heard. That does not mean that we parents agree with them or do everything they want, but it does mean that they know that we hear them.
5. Are you modeling the behavior you hope your child will demonstrate?
If you want your child to develop character strengths such as curiosity, persistence, and respect, the number one thing you can do is to model these character strengths yourself. You know this, for sure, but if you’re like me, a little time looking in the mirror can go a long way to help you recognize and begin to change some things. Character is “caught,” not “taught.”
6. Are you fostering a culture of learning at home?
How do you model and foster a culture of learning in your family? Do you read and talk about books? Current events? Do you have hobbies? If so, do you share your enthusiasm and draw your children in, whether you’re into fixing cars or playing video games? The bottom line: Does your child see you excited about learning new things?
7. Are you helping your child discover and pursue their own passions?
Children will thrive more or less depending on whether they discover passions and purposes that are meaningful to them and the world. “Doing well in school” is not an ultimate purpose; it’s a means to an end. Whether they’re 4 or 16, are you watching carefully for signs of what they love and supporting them so they can build on their nascent interests?
If you are doing well or are committed to getting better at these seven things, then I’d say the answer is yes, you are doing a good job as a parent.
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