Hey, you see this picture?
Every time I see a happy, smiley, cuddly family on TV or in public, I roll my eyes. “No family is ever like that,” I’d say. Well, I’m wrong, and I know it.
Some families are close and loving, and they’re not afraid to show it.
Daddy’s girls, mama’s boys, corny dad jokes, loving motherly gazes, hugs, kisses, “I love yous”, heart-to-heart conversations, wise advice, college tuition funds, lunch money, soccer games, minivans. I roll my eyes at these things, but I secretly wanted it all growing up.
Loving and supportive parents are rare, and the kids who have them are lucky. They usually turn out happy, secure, and well-rounded. They go on to form healthy relationships with other people. They have a strong support system they can rely on and trust. They’re well-rested and their worries stay small.
Kids who don’t have loving and supportive parents? Well, most of them turn out a mess of insecurities. Some might even be so bitter and confused that they take the time to write articles like this one. In fact…
Children who have strained relationships with their parents are more likely to die earlier than those who come from happy and healthy households.
In the 1950s, a few Harvard University researchers surveyed students on their parental relationships. In the 1980s, they checked on those same students again and discovered something alarming:
100% of the students who rated their relationship with their parents as “strained and cold” were suffering from critical health conditions, including severe heart disease, intestinal ulcers, cancer, and alcoholism. In contrast, 53% of the students who described their parental relationships as “very close” or “warm and friendly” were happy and healthy. This alarming discovery showed that a loving relationship with your parents could play a big role in your chances of living a long and healthy life.
Many parents don’t realize that their children rely on them for everything, and I mean everything. It’s a parent’s job to nurture, educate, support, and help their children grow into a happy, secure, and well-rounded adults. This should actually go without saying, but you’d be surprised at how many parents don’t even try to parent at all.
Think you are or will be a great parent?
Many parents think highly of themselves. In a survey conducted by Pew Research, 24% of parents with children rated themselves as excellent parents. An additional 45% said they had done a very good job. Only 6% admitted that they did a poor job raising their children.
What do the kids think?
In a separate survey conducted by researchers from 5 different state departments, more than 50% of the 26,229 adults surveyed reported having gone through a difficult childhood experience that involved verbal, physical, or sexual abuse, mental illnesses, substance abuse, or domestic violence.
It’s clear that many parents aren’t doing as good of a job as they think they are.
I know no one is perfect. I know that even the most devoted, well-intended parent in the world can still inadvertently cause deep-seated issues in their children. We’re all human, so making mistakes is inevitable. However, there’s always room for improvement.
I’m not a psychologist or sociologist. I claim no special skills or degrees in counseling or child development. Rather, I’m just a regular Joe who used my observations of negligent and abusive parenting practices in action over the years to come up with a list of what makes a parent truly rise above the din.
Without further ado, here’s what I think great parents do differently:
1. Speak well of their children.
Some parents like to air out their dirty laundry in public. Some will even go as far as complain about their children to other people. Even if all this grousing is done in private (for example, a sister criticizing her own children to another sister), the children will find out someday, and it will shatter their trust in their parents.
You’re the first person your children go to when they need someone to confide in. If your children know that you will discuss their flaws, problems, insecurities, and fears with others, they will be far less likely to go to you, or even any adult for that matter, when they seriously need to talk to someone.
To be a great parent, just say kind words about your children in public and leave their flaws, problems, insecurities, and fears behind closed doors. It’s your children’s story to tell; not yours.
Always remember that you are your children’s primary advocate. Often times, your children don’t have a strong enough voice to stand up for themselves. Even if they do, there are still very few adults who would earnestly listen to your children’s side of the story and take the time to understand the reasoning behind their actions. Most people would simply take your complaints at face value and form unflattering opinions of your children without giving them a fair chance.
If you don’t speak well of your own children, then who will?
2. Take their children seriously.
I once heard a great quote that went something like, “Listen earnestly to anything your children tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.”
Instead of tuning out your child’s ramblings about becoming an astronaut, pull out the laptop and do research with your child on space and Buzz Aldrin. Instead of rolling your eyes at your adult child’s latest business idea, offer some constructive advice and find a way to help out with your own set of skills. Listen, listen, listen!
Personally speaking, I have an alarmingly fragile relationship with both of my parents because of this (in addition to many other mistakes they made while raising me.) Whenever I’m going through something serious and desperately need someone to talk to, I turn to them for help. They’re always either ignoring me or telling me to get over it and leave them alone.
It’s been like this my entire life. I have no idea why I still put forth the effort to open up to my parents about the big things in my life, because I always end up feeling a lot of pain from being shut out each and every time. I hope that someday I’ll figure out how to let go of the urge to bond with them, because it has become clear to me that it’ll never happen.
This has taught me early on to never bother anyone with any big news, serious troubles, or even regular chatter. Because I grew up with parents who couldn’t be bothered to give me any real attention beyond feeding, clothing, and housing me, I struggled really hard with taking myself seriously. To tell the truth, I’m still struggling. Nothing I say is important. No one cares about what I have to say. My musings, ideas, dreams, fears, insecurities, and troubles don’t matter at all.
I don’t want any child to end up as messed up as I am in this department. So please, please, please take everything your children say seriously, no matter how insignificant it may seem to you. It’ll make a world of difference to them.
3. Always put their children before everyone else.
When I was in my early teens, my father shacked up with a clinically insane 27-year-old waitress. I lived with them at the time, and even though I mainly kept to myself, she constantly harassed me and did all sorts of petty things to push me out of the house. She saw me as competition and eventually gave my father an ultimatum: it was either her or me. My father did what any rational parent would do… and sent his 14-year-old daughter packing. I had to move back in with my mother, who spent half of the time telling me how much she disliked me and the other half being so engrossed with her boyfriend that she forgot I was even there.
Today, I’m a person with absolutely zero family values… and no trust in her parents whatsoever. I was raised to believe that friends and significant others always came first, after all.
If you want to be a great parent, always put your children first in important situations. When making major life decisions, think about your children first and how your decisions will affect them.
If your children are still young, they don’t have the power to make major decisions for themselves. As a parent, you owe it to your children to make good decisions that will help pave the way to a happy and comfortable life for them.
4. Stand up for their children.
If you’re not going to stand up for your children, then who will?
Great parents have their children’s backs, no matter what. This doesn’t mean jumping to your children’s defense whenever they misbehave. “Oh, my little darling would never throw a ball through your window” is not standing up for your children. It’s enabling their bad behavior, and you’d be doing them a huge disservice when it comes to building good character.
Instead, great parents recognize when their children are being abused or wronged, and they do whatever they can to help their children through the ordeal.
This doesn’t mean you can go into Mama Bear mode and blow the whistle on any kid who looks at your child the wrong way at the playground.
It’s your job as a parent to let your children learn how to stand up for themselves, but you still need to assure them that you will always stand behind them and offer support whenever they need it. Your children will go through hard times. They will be abused. They will be wronged. And they will need you.
Be 100% there when it happens.
5. Play no favorites.
We’ve all heard of the favorite child.
However, there’s a lesser-known role in the family: the family scapegoat. This is the person who takes the brunt of the abuse from everyone else in the family. This person is usually seen as the “black sheep” of the family and is constantly blamed, criticized, belittled, and ridiculed.
The scapegoat doesn’t get picked randomly. It’s usually the sensitive, unhappy, outspoken, or vulnerable child who refuses to look content or stay silent in the unbearable atmosphere created at home.
When there’s a favorite child, there’s a scapegoat. There’s a golden child/scapegoat dynamic going on, and it’s never a healthy environment for either child. The golden child usually develops an entitled attitude, and the scapegoat almost always ends up with a lot of self esteem issues.
Some people believe that every parent has a favorite child. Whether or not it’s true, great parents know to always try their best to love their children equally. They understand that some children require more attention than others, but they still make sure to give each child enough love and attention at all times.
I’ve seen many cases where a parent would ignore a child who’s not compatible with them at all. Instead of trying to meet the child’s unique needs, the parent would just call the child “difficult”, provide bare minimum care, and hope that the problems will go away. All the while, the parent will be doting on another child who’s much easier to take care of.
Don’t be that parent. Children always know when their parents are playing favorites.
6. Accept responsibility for their own problems.
When I was in 4th grade, an extended family member announced that his wedding would be in Colorado. As a kid who lived in boring ol’ Illinois, I was excited. I went to school and told everyone that I was going to the beautiful state of Colorado (little did I know that I would end up moving here 14 years later!) The upcoming trip was all I talked about at school.
One day, I was at home, running around outside like a regular kid. I don’t remember what I did, but it resulted in my mother screaming at me. “You’re stupid and useless! We’re not bringing you to Colorado because you embarrass us so much and we don’t want anyone to know that we have you for a daughter!”
That tirade broke my spirits.
My parents ended up dumping me at my aunt’s house for a week, after which I sheepishly went back to school. My excited teacher and classmates asked me how my awesome trip went. “Fine,” I mumbled. I didn’t have it in me to tell everyone that my parents left me at home because they were ashamed of me.
Many years later, I casually asked my mother why I couldn’t tag along to the wedding in Colorado. “Oh,” she said. “We just couldn’t afford it.”
If you constantly use your children as a scapegoat for your own problems, your children will end up anxious, insecure, overly apologetic, and/or unable to take responsibility for their own actions.
Great parents not only take responsibility for their own mistakes, shortcomings, and weaknesses, but they also make sure never to blame their children for anything out of their control.
They do this not by pointing fingers at their own children, but by communicating with their children and setting an example by openly accepting blame for their own actions, problems, and shortcomings.
They say that communication is key in any relationship, even with your own children. Communicate, communicate, communicate!
7. Treat their children’s friends with respect.
While you may dictate how your children eat, dress, and learn, you have little to no control over the type of friends your children choose. Often times, your children see their friends as an extension of themselves. They personally chose to spend time with these people, probably because they have some things in common and because your children enjoy their company.
You’re not required to like all of your children’s friends, but you should be polite to them. If you openly insult or disrespect your children’s friends, you’re making your children feel that their choices are not good enough for you. If you make a habit out of belittling your children’s friends, they’ll stop bringing people home and soon enough, you’ll have no idea what your children do and who they hang out with in their free time.
If you feel that you have a legitimate reason for not liking one of your child’s friends (for example, they have talked your child into skipping school a few times), sit down with your child and have an honest chat about why you believe that he should limit his time with that friend. Refrain from name-calling and personal attacks.
8. See their children for who they really are.
A lot of parents have a set of expectations for their children well before they’re born.
Your child might not pursue a basketball career like you did in high school. Your child might not share your passion for music. Your child might not get accepted into a top university. Your child might not decide to become a doctor like you. Your child might not inherit your intelligence or your spouse’s fun and outgoing personality. Heck, your child might not even share the same political or religious views as you.
Instead of raising their children to support their preconceived notions of how things should turn out, great parents shed their idealized versions and see their children for who they really are. They encourage and nurture their children’s individuality, and they offer support whenever they can. Of course, they might not agree with all of their children’s choices, but they put their differences aside because they understand that their children are their own people with their own personalities and interests, not an extension of their parents.
This also applies to parents who see their children as perfect little darlings who could do no wrong. They overlook their children’s detrimental behavior because they either don’t want to deal with it or they genuinely believe that their children are too smart and perfect to make bad choices. While it’s great to have a parent who thinks highly of you, it’s still bad parenting. If those same parents woke up and started acknowledging their children’s bad habits and behavior, they’d be able to get their children the help they need before it gets worse.
This should go without saying, but you should always see and accept your children for who they are. If you let your children feel inferior, different, or wrong for not fitting in your box, then their individuality will fade away. I can’t imagine anything more tragic than this.
Children will not remember you for the material things you provided, but for the feeling that you cherished them. – Richard L. Evans