Forget parenting books, classes and Dr Google: perfect parents don’t exist, so trust your instincts and get to know your children
Children don’t come with a manual, so don’t be swayed by the parenting industry, say Hong Kong psychologists; they advise parents to ignore the latest trends and the anxiety to be a good parent and do what feels right for the family
Search Amazon.com for books on “parenting” and it’ll suggest more than 100,000 titles.
Now consider the word: Parent. Parenting: a noun morphed as a verb. Raising children becomes an increasingly grown-up job, as evidenced by all those titles.
Parenting now intimates an important higher calling in a way that plain old raising kids just doesn’t.
Are you looking, Amazon wants to know, for “parenting with love and logic”; “parenting from the inside out”; “parenting toddlers”; “parenting the strong willed child” or “parenting without power struggles”? Or all of the above? Most people just want to know how to bring up babies.
Parenting, it seems, has become a commercial, billion-dollar industry. The apparently infinite list of books on the subject grows ever longer every year with hot new topics: 2018 will see the publication of Thomas Lickona’s How to Raise Kind Kids, Katie Hurley’s No More Mean Girls, and the very contemporary The Art of Screen Time, by Anya Kamenetz, which will help parents “manage their children’s relationships with technology by taking part in digital experiences together”.
The books are augmented by parenting “gurus” – you can attend classes in being a better mother.
If that was not enough, social media brims with parents who’ve apparently got it spot on as they proudly parade their offspring’s talents and achievements on Facebook.
So if your own sons and daughters haven’t scaled the same lofty academic heights, you’re left feeling as if you’ve failed – even though your bookshelves are weighted with tomes on How to be a Perfect Parent.
Instead of all that reading, maybe parents need to trust their guts a little – both in how to go about this parenting business and in gauging themselves how well they’re doing. After all, they have a barometer right there, in their children.
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My siblings and I aren’t perfect, but we’re on the right side of reasonable, and our mother grew us on a tattered, borrowed copy of Benjamin Spock’s Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care. In the total absence of social media, she relied on the odd bits of input from our grandmothers. She knew they loved us; she knew their input was sincere and founded in real-life, common-or-garden, other-mother experience.
So how can mums – and dads – learn to trust themselves a little and shed themselves of the burdensome anxiety that being a good parent doesn’t mean they have do to things by the book, literally.
Dr Quratulain Zaidi, a psychologist at Hong Kong’s MindnLife counselling and therapy practice, says that despite what Amazon would have us believe, “children don’t come with a manual”.
“We live with an overload of information that creates increased stress and a constant need to do better as parents, while simultaneously beating ourselves up for not being the perfect parent. Perfectionism and fear of failure are big drivers in perfect parenting,” Zaidi says.
The internet doesn’t help, she adds: “People tend to consult Google rather than ask for advice from real people.”
Child psychologist Lora Lee agrees. “Babies and children don’t come with a menu, but as humans, we want certainty. We want menus that tell us what to do and we want to know we are doing the best for our children.”
And while the (presumably universal) objective to raise happy, healthy children remains, we are at the mercy of vacillating parenting trends, as Zaidi observes. “Once we were all encouraged to be authoritative parents, then attachment parenting was all the rage, then slow parenting [the natural backlash to hyper-parenting]. Now it’s fashionable to adopt ‘intensive parenting’, which urges ‘essentialism’,” she says.
All those trends, inevitably, come with an attendant title.
“Many frustrated parents tell me about all the parenting books they have read, and while I am impressed, I cannot imagine how confused they must be,” Lee says. “The more they read, the more they feel like they are not doing enough.
“I have read hundreds of parenting books, on top of books on developmental psychology, neuropsychology and attachment theory, but I have yet to find the holy grail of parenting. I’ve learned a lot.”
But that knowledge is nothing without the confidence to simply be a “good enough mother”. Instead of offering “one-size-fits-all” parenting advice, Lee encourages parents to get to know their child, their temperament and needs, and learn to listen and communicate with them well.
Zaidi agrees: “Accept there is no such thing as a perfect parent or that perfect book, no perfect way to raise a perfect child. We can only do our best given our own unique set of circumstances, trust our intuition, trust ourselves with the huge responsibility of raising good human beings is enough.”
And there never has been any such thing as a perfect parent. The late great Spock, who spawned parenting publishing with his 1946 bestseller, said it was OK to make mistakes.
Raising children is an important job and sometimes it’s a really challenging job, evidenced by my book search: 100,000 titles on parenting, 2,000 on rocket science.
Three top parenting tips
Remember, you’re the expert: nobody knows your child better than you do, says US-based psychologist Eileen Kennedy-Moore. “Trusting your gut isn’t about being a perfect parent or refusing to learn. It’s about drawing from your own knowledge and experience of your own child to guide your actions,” she says.
Lose the expectations: Elaine Taylor-Klaus, author and co-founder of ImpactADHD.com, urges us to stop parenting the way other people expect us to. That way, she says: “You can start by being clear about what’s important to you, your values? What do you want for your kids?”
Parents, she adds, want to trust their instincts but often “feel constrained by the expectations of others”.
Right and wrong: some things might just feel wrong for you as a parent just because they feel wrong for you as an individual. Kennedy-Moore encourages us to be guided by our moral compasses.
Be forward looking: consider how you want your relationship with you children to look years from now. “When you take the time to paint a vision for what you want for yourself and your family, you will begin to be guided by that vision,” Taylor-Klaus says.