We all want to be excellent parents… and that it is no simple task. Still, as difficult as it is, I do know where to begin. Excellent parenting begins with self-awareness. That’s right. Excellent parents practice self-awareness. They have learned that raising a child demands that we, as parents, take a deeply honest look at ourselves. What does this self-awareness, this deeply honest look at oneself, consist of for a parent? Let’s consider a couple of questions to get us started:
- First, we need to take an honest look at our feelings about our own childhood. What was it like for you as a child and as a teen? Were you shy or extroverted? Did you enjoy sports? art? academics? What were your happiest memories? Your least happy memories? Times are different today, but it still helps us to parent more effectively when we recall what it was like to be a child or teen.
- Second, we need to take an honest look at how we were parented as a child or teen. How did your parents parent you? Every parent makes mistakes, our parents and ourselves included. So, take an honest, nonjudgmental look at your childhood and recall those things your parents did that you now see as helpful. Also, consider those things your parents did that you now see as not helpful. Take time to determine the positive practices you can learn from your parents and what you will do instead of the practices you found unhelpful.
- Third, take an honest look at your expectations in regard to your children. Our expectations have a huge impact on our ability to parent well. What are your expectations for your children? Are they reasonable and age appropriate? For instance, we cannot reasonably expect a toddler to sit quietly in a restaurant for half an hour before eating. In a similar manner, we don’t want to discipline our toddler in the same way we might discipline a teen. Assuring our expectations remain reasonable and age appropriate may require some self-education. Take time to learn about children’s physical, emotional, and mental development.
- Fourth, take an honest look at your self-expectations in regard to parenting. There are many parenting myths out there that will sabotage your efforts at parenting. Make sure you don’t fall prey to those myths. Consider: what are your expectations in regard to time spent with children? How easily your children will listen? How your children’s behavior reflects on you or does not reflect on you? Your life after your children leave home? Take an honest look at any expectations you hold for yourself and your spouse as parents.
- Fifth, take an honest look at your priorities and goals. Parenting is a journey and any successful journey demands that we know where we are going. The perceived end of our journey shapes the priorities along the way. Do you want to raise adults focused on “winning” and achieving at any cost or adults focused on “doing their best” and displaying good sportsmanship? Do you want your children to believe achievement or kindness is most important? Do you want to promote “taking care of yourself” or helping others? You get the idea. What priorities will shape your efforts to raise your children? Your answers will shape your behavior and your parenting style.
- Finally, take an honest look at your fears. Do fears drive your family? If so, what fears are aroused in your efforts to raise healthy children? Watching our children and teens venture into the world can arouse many fears. We need to acknowledge those fears honestly. Recognizing and acknowledging our fears will help us to not overreact to them. Instead, we can plan and prepare for whatever transitions, times, or activities arouse our fears. As we address our fears in a healthy way, our parenting can be led by love instead of fear.
Taking an honest look at these six factors will set you on the road to parenting with self-awareness. It may prove challenging, but the long-term returns of healthy children and a healthy relationship with your children are well worth the investment.