When I was a new mother to two young babies (and before I attended graduate school for clinical psychology), I often worried about being a “good” mother. Was I giving both kids enough attention? Was I smothering them with too much attention? Were they happy? Could I help make them happier? Were they getting enough to eat, sleep, etc …. The list of worries went on and on.
I’m sure you can relate.
Then I came across Donald Winnicott’s writings on the “Good Enough Mother” and all of my worries seemed to shrink away. Certainly, they didn’t all go away, but I now had a new perspective on parenting that helped relieve some of my worrying.
Winnicott was a pediatrician in the 50’s and 60’s who worked extensively with average mothers and their children in Britain. Through his experiences with these mothers, he came to believe that the way to be a good mother is to be a good enough mother. (To my devoted dad readers – this conclusion can be generalized to dads, too. Remember, Winnicott was old school and back then moms were the primary caregivers.)
He pointed out that children need real parents who try really hard, but also mess up at times. Real parents love their kids AND can dislike them sometimes. Real parents need to be around their kids, and need to have a life of their own, too.
Kids don’t need a perfect parent – they need a parent who knows how to handle the imperfections of life. As parents, we need to give ourselves a break. To set the bar as a perfect parent is not only an impossible task, but also a disservice to our kids.
So what makes a good parent? Here is my list of 6 characteristics that I believe describes a good parent. Later, I have also outlined a list of 6 points for further growth for the parent who has already mastered the first 6 points.
6 Signs You Are A Good Parent
1. You tell your child you love them AND show it each day. Kids need to hear from their parents that they are loved. Make it a habit to tell your child daily that you love them. If you come from a family that didn’t say the “L” word to each other and are uncomfortable saying it to your own children, start out slowly by choosing a specific time each day (i.e. before bedtime, before heading off to school) and just say it, Over time it will feel normal and comfortable telling your child that you love them.
You can also communicate your love through your actions. Loving actions can be:
- Putting your arm around your child when they talk to you
- Putting down your iPhone, iPad or any other iThing when your child needs your attention
- Keeping your word – be there when you say you are going to be there, follow through with a promise, etc.
This can become very challenging if you are a divorced parent who does not have primary custody. I would still encourage you, though, to communicate a daily “I love you” to your kids even on the days that your kids are living with the other parent. It could be something as easy as a quick text, call, or Facetime chat, but you really need to maintain that daily connection with your child.
2. You parent with a purpose – not out of formality, anger, or convenience. Always remember the Modern Parenting Rule #2, and parent everyday in every situation with a pre-designed plan in mind (don’t have a parenting plan yet? Click HERE to start creating one). A go-to parenting plan is essential especially when you are too angry to think straight or are too overwhelmed by life demands to think clearly about parenting.
Also, parenting ineffectively just because that is how you were raised isn’t a good excuse either. We parent at our best when we blend classic parenting techniques with modern ones. If a parenting technique worked for your parent(s) but is not working for you, then stop using that technique! Ask your friends or research new techniques to replace the old, ineffective technique.
3. You have family routines as well as special family rituals. Family routines are actually DIFFERENT from rituals.
A family routine is a systematic structure of behaviors that families use to organize and complete daily activities, spend time together and have fun. Every family has its own unique routines that serve that individual family’s passions, values, and beliefs. Routines help family members know who should do what, when, in what order and how often. Routines serve to get the daily running of the household complete.
Family rituals are very similar to family routines in that they are repeated family behaviors, but in this instance, there is special MEANING attached to these behaviors. For example, the way your family celebrates Christmas, birthdays, and other special events are all examples of family rituals.
Family rituals and routines provide families with a sense of identity and belonging and are a great way of transmitting family values, history and culture from one generation to the next (especially if you are a Modern Family who blends classic parenting techniques with modern techniques).
4. You might not always know WHAT to do as a parent, but you know HOW to get the knowledge and support you need to parent effectively. It is very important to have a parenting support system – so important that it is one of my PARENTING RULES. Having wise and supportive people that you can turn to during difficult times can mean the difference between muddling through a situation and hoping everything turns out ok and setting yourself up for success by having a plan in place for those hard times.
How do you find a support system? Look around you and try to identify people who seem to be good parents themselves. You might find these people at work, at your child’s school, within your family, or they could be friends of yours already. If you can identify at least two people in your life who have a positive attitude and appear to handle problems well in their own lives, then they are probably good candidates for your support system.
5. You are consistent in your parenting. I’m not the only parenting expert who preaches consistency, so it MUST be important, right? When you are consistent with your parenting, you are nonverbally communicating to your child that your passions, values, and beliefs are so important that you, that you live them EVERYDAY.
Remember that a lot of what we communicate to our kids is through nonverbal behavior, and when we are steadfast in our passions, values, and beliefs across different challenging situations and/or environments, then our kids learn to respect our standards.
However, consistency is most important because it helps to eliminate unwanted behavior. Kids are really smart –they use “bad” and “annoying” behavior to get what they want because it has worked for them in the past!!
It takes a lot of hard work for the parent initially, but the long-term rewards are worth the effort. Being consistent with rules, consequences, and attention leads to well-behaved kids because if they expect that “bad” and “annoying” behavior will not work, then they will stop using those behaviors.
Therefore, if you are trying your best to be consistent most of the time with your parenting (no one’s perfect, right?) then I think you are well on the path to being a good parent.
6. You are aware that your actions speak louder than words. Remember the saying “don’t just talk the talk, but also walk the walk”? It is so important to not only talk to your kids about your personal passions, values, and beliefs, but to also live them each day.
For example, if you tell your kids that respecting each other is important in your household, but then you turn around and yell at your kids when you are mad at them, then you are sending inconsistent messages to your kids. Not ably is this very confusing for your kids, but they also lose respect for you.
Therefore, let your actions speak just as loud as your words by consistently letting your actions reflect your passions, values, and beliefs.
“Good Parent” Extra Credit
Now that we have established that you are a good parent, I know that you are not satisfied with the status quo – you want to continue refining your parenting skills.
Most good parents are continually working on improving their parenting skills; therefore, I have compiled another list of 6 items for extra credit. Read through the next 6 items and try to identify 1 or 2 points that you think you might want to work on.
**BONUS** Identify your preconceived expectations regarding your child and evaluate if this is good for your child. Do you feel like your child is a “mini” version of you? Or do you sometimes wonder how your child is so different from you?
When your child was born, did you have an idea of what your relationship with your child would feel like? Did you picture their successful future in your head?
If you feel a lack of closeness with your child, it might be due to the fact that they did not develop like you had imagined. They might be quite different from you. This personality difference might be causing you (or your child) to have a relationship without much depth.
If you feel this might be happening with you and your child, try to take an emotional step back and ask yourself these questions:
- What did I think my child would be like?
- How are they not meeting my expectations?
- Putting those expectations aside, what DO I like about my child?
- When do I feel close to my child?
- How can I put aside these expectations and focus more on the things I like about my child EVERY DAY?
I have seen many parents at the clinic who found it difficult to give up on the dream they had for their child, and their household became a battle zone to get their child on board with this dream. Once the parent realized that their child was just as lovable living out a dream of their own, the relationship between parent and child improved.
**BONUS** Listen – really listen – to your child at least once per day. Kids need us hear what they say. That’s hard to do sometimes when we have email to answer, dinner to cook, and bills to pay.
It is essential that we set aside these distractions – as important as they are – and give our kids our full attention at least once per day. I’m not saying that we need to hang on our child’s every word at every moment, but we need to be spending quality time listening to our kids regularly.
In addition to putting aside our distractions for a while, we also need to listen to CONTENT as well as the CONTEXT of what our kids are saying. For example, your child might be telling you in the moment that their teacher is mean and expects too much from the students (content), but what they might be really saying is that they don’t understand the classwork and need some extra help (context).
Understanding the content versus the context takes patience and practice. It also helps if you have developed a warm and trusting relationship with your child.
If you feel that this is an area where you might want to improve with your parenting skills, then practice with listening to your child every day. If your child knows that you are interested in them (i.e. they notice your putting away your iPhone and you look directly at your child while they talk), then over time they will be more willing to discuss important topics with you.
**BONUS** Are your forgetting to “raise the bar” as your child matures? It is very common for parents to forget that as their kids mature, they should be expecting more responsibility and independence from their children.
I know that I need to work on this as well. I get into a mode where everything is working so smoothly at my house – and I don’t want to upset the peace that has been established; however, I know its best for my kids to challenge them to reach the next level in their development.
So, are things working smoothly in your household? What can be improved? In what areas can you challenge your kids to be more responsible or independent?
**BONUS** Have a separate relationship with each sibling. Do you have a separate relationship with each of your kids that takes into account their unique personalities, passions, and circumstances?
Kids crave for their parents to notice their unique qualities and personalities. Really great parents strive to spend some quality individual time with each child.
**BONUS** Allow your child to experience life for themselves. As our children mature, it is necessary that we give them some space to try out their independence in a safe environment. Why? Because our kids are going to make some mistakes and we want them to make these mistakes in the family environment so that we can turn these mistakes into teachable moments.
The thinking is this: if our kids makes certain mistakes now, then they will learn from these mistakes and (hopefully) not make these mistakes when they are older.
Slowly allowing our kids more free reign as they get older to make their own decisions also communicates to them that we trust them to try to make good decisions and that we know they are mature enough to ask us for help when needed.
This doesn’t mean our kids will be perfect, but it is the start of our kids becoming independent adults.
**BONUS** Be the parent your child needs you to be in that moment. Finally, truly great Modern Parents are not simply a one trick pony, using the same parenting skills and techniques for all occasions.
Great Modern Parents have many parenting tools and techniques in their “parenting tool belt” and strive to understand the current situation on many different levels so that they can match the appropriate parenting tool to the situation.
For example, let’s say that your daughter comes to you crying because she got into a fight with one of her good friends. Some possible parenting “tools” that might be appropriate for this situations could be: 1) listen to your child and be supportive while she tells you what happened; 2) problem-solve ways your child can improve this friendship; and 3) call this friend’s mother and discuss the situation.
Choosing the correct parenting technique depends on many factors such as your child’s temperment, the relationship you have with your child, and the unique circumstances surrounding this situation, but when you are able to be the parent your child needs you to be in this unique situation, then you have really entered into advanced parenting territory!
Take Home Message
If I could go back in time to when I was a new mother, simply knowing that I did not need to be a perfect parent would have been so much help.