From the day you even find out you’re going to become a parent, one thought will plague you: How to nail this whole parenting thing. It’s not that you won’t be a good parent. In fact, if you’re reading this, we can almost guarantee you are a good parent because you care enough to Google “how to be a better parent.” Still, regardless of how irrational, irrelevant, or downright inaccurate it is, you’ll probably never think you’re a good enough (whatever that is) parent. Spoiler alert? You are enough, Mama.
Having said that, there is no such thing as a perfect parent, meaning there’s always room for improvement. And with so many different parenting styles out there, there’s no one way to parent. So, to help you on your journey, here are a few parenting pointers to enhance what you’re already working with.
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What qualities make a good parent?
Do you sometimes hug them and smell their hair? (Don’t front — we all do this.) Would you do literally anything on the face of the earth to protect that precious little human? In other words, do you love your kid? Like, a lot? Because the crux of good parenting is just that: love.
Of course, when you think of aspirational parents in your life, they probably do share a few other traits. They likely have a good sense of humor. They’re flexible and, as much as is possible when you’re worried about keeping tiny humans safe, they tend to go with the flow. They’re good at pivoting. They give their kids healthy boundaries. And, yeah, they’re probably pretty darn good role models, too.
How can I improve my parenting skills?
For starters, take a cue from the cool parents on the block you secretly study on Instagram and lead by example. Kids are notoriously sponge-like so, whether you realize it or not, you’re teaching your little ones something 24/7 — for better or worse. Let your child learn from their mistakes. To do this, you obviously have to allow for those mistakes. This is important, perfectionist mamas! Children need to learn cause and effect, and they need to be able to adapt to letdowns. Of course, definitely step in if your child is about to do one of those wildly dangerous and inexplicable things kids sometimes do.
Teach children by doing, not saying; impart optimism; teach them how to dust themselves off after a failure and keep going; playtime is just as important as study time; and never expect perfection. All this is obviously easier said than done, but if you take it step-by-step and day-by-day, you’ll pass on that happiness and self-confidence to your kiddos.
A huge but admittedly hard thing that parents can do to improve is to avoid comparisons. Yes, this is tricky since social media breeds comparison. You’re going to look at everyone’s perfect little squares and be tempted to size your kid up next to someone else’s. Don’t. All children are different. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, just like grownups. There is no yardstick that can measure their potential, and especially not the one that belongs to your neighbor.
If you feel like your child is exhibiting some less than desirable behavior, analyze it. What is motivating them to act out in that way? Sure, you should discipline them accordingly with a time-out, by taking away a privilege, etc. However, take a measured approach by asking your kid questions and trying to figure out the root of the bad behavior.
What’s the most important thing to remember about parenting skills?
You’re going to mess up. Most of us do — often. It’s sort of part and parcel with this whole parenting gig. It’s okay, though. This is parenting. It’s messy and imperfect and frustrating and beautiful and infuriating and all the things all the time. And while that can definitely feel overwhelming, it’s also a huge part of what makes parenting fun. Perfection is overrated (and unattainable); parenting involvement is where it’s at.
If there were three tenants of parenting we were going to take to the bank, they’d be as follows: Try not to take yourself too seriously, be present as often as possible, and hug your kid every chance you get. ICYMI, studies show that last one is basically health food for your kid’s brain.
Learn to forgive, yourself and your children. Adults and children alike are only human, we all have our stressors, we get overwhelmed, tired, hangry, frustrated, and plain old angry. If you lost your cool and yelled at your kids one evening, don’t beat yourself up over it for the remainder of the week. Learn from it, move on, be kind to yourself. Zeroing in only on our mistakes as parents will keep us from noticing or truly enjoying the other 99 percent of the positivity, love, and affection we give our children.
One more thing, try to take time to practice true self-care. For some, that may be getting a pedicure, spending time with your adult friends sans kids, or taking a long bath. For others, it might mean being alone without someone clutching at you or needed something from you for a part of each day or week. After all, how can you raise happy children if you have a hard time finding your own ray of sunshine.
Take note: This doesn’t look like forcing your kids to play baseball when they hate sports.
What did you like doing when you were your kids’ ages? What do you enjoy doing now? Grab earplugs and take your kiddo to that all-ages concert. Have a box of scrapbooking supplies specifically for your little one to destroy. Pull out your old yearbooks and laugh at your silly hair or teach them a song you sang in show choir. Your kids adore you and they’ll eat up even the most seemingly boring aspects of who you are. Think we’re wrong? Consider the things you most remember about your own guardians. It’s probably things like the silky robe your mom used to wear around the house or how much fun you had singing along to songs with your dad… even though he’s a horrible singer. Sharing who you were and who you are will show your kids you trust them enough to let them in on your life which will, in turn, encourage them to trust you and do the same.