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How to be the "Ultimate" Parent by Dr. Noel Swanson We all know what a bad parent looks like: intolerant, constantly critical, more interested in their own affairs (in both senses of the word) than in the needs of their children. But what does it take to be a good parent? What does it take to give your children the very best start to life that you possibly can? In the 1960's John Bowlby did a lot of work looking into theeffects of parenting on children. In those days he coinedthe term "good-enough parenting". His thesis was thatprovided you avoided the sins of "bad" parenting, you weredoing okay, and your children, with their own naturalresilience, would also do okay.So is that all there is to it? Or are there things thatyou, as a parent, can do to be more than just a "goodenough" parent. Can you, indeed, be a "super parent", eventhe "ultimate" parent? Or is that just a myth of thefeminist movement?Well, let's get one thing straight once and for all: No oneis perfect. Try as you might, you will never be a "perfect"parent. You will never get it right every moment of everyday for every year of your children's growing lives. Nor doyou need to. In that sense, Bowlby's concept of "goodenough" is very true. You do not need to be perfect. Yourkids WILL survive. "Good enough" is good enoughBut, I suspect that you probably want more for your kidsthan just average. I strongly believe that there are thingsyou can do, and attitudes you can adopt, that will give yourchildren the very best start to life they could possiblyhave. And, at the same time, will actually make life easierand more fulfilling for yourself too. It is not a longlist, but if you can manage the following, then I believeyou have every right to call yourself the "ultimate" parent:1) Recognise you are human. You cannot do everything, youcannot be everywhere, you cannot know everything. You willmake mistakes. You also have your own issues, problems andhang-ups from your own past. That is all okay. The key tothis game is not being perfect, but having the rightattitude.What is the right attitude? Being humble. Recognising thatyou have much to learn (we all do) and being willing to beteachable and to learn from your mistakes. A sign ofgenuine maturity is being able to look back at your past,recognise the mistakes you made, and say "this is what Ihave learnt about myself, and what I need to work onchanging in myself". But there is a flip side to this. Constantly puttingyourself down with an "I'm no good" attitude is just as badas the "I have nothing to learn" attitude. Forgive yourselffor your mistakes. Celebrate your successes. Look back tothe past only long enough to learn from it, then set yoursights forward, and press on in the directions YOU want togo. If you have any serious issues from the past, be braveenough to seek help and get over them. 2) Recognise you are playing a percentage game. We have allheard of them: the kids from the most abusive, deprivedbackgrounds who somehow manage to make huge successes ofthemselves. And the kids from the very best of families (asdemonstrated by their siblings) who somehow go off the railsinto drugs and crime.The reality is that you, the parent, are only one factor inyour children's upbringing. They are also subject toinfluence from the friends, other relatives, teachers, shopkeepers, TV, magazines and, of course, their own geneticmakeup. You cannot control all the variables. You might be the verybest, the ultimate parent, and yet your kids turn out asfailures. You might be the very worst, alcoholic andabusive parent, and yet your kids do fine. Nothing in lifeis guaranteed.So you play the percentages. You know that if you beat yourkids, they are more likely to turn out bad than good. So,on average, beating your kids is probably not a good idea. Using fair and consistent discipline probably producesbetter odds for a successful outcome - so do that instead.You success as a parent is NOT determined by how well yourchildren turn out. It IS determined by whether you did allyou reasonably could to do the right things and make theright decisions for them, WITH THE KNOWLEDGE YOU HAD AT THETIME. Maybe those decisions turn out to be the wrong ones. So be it. That does not mean you failed as a parent. But,if you were too lazy to get the facts, if you just took theeasiest decision without thinking about the impact on yourchildren, then, I believe, you have failed - even if itturns out that the decision was the right one!3) Recognise your children are not the only things in yourlife. In this day and age we seem to be obsessed with theidea that the interests of the children come first, beforeanything else. I strongly disagree with that concept. Yes,me must consider the best interests of the child, but thereare other things to consider too. It may be, for instance, that taking a new job in adifferent city might be the best thing for your family -even if it means taking your child away from his school andfriends.By putting children first in everything we run the danger ofcreating a selfish, "me first" generation where they grow upbelieving that the world owes them a living. Sometimeschildren have to take second place - and that in itself isan important lesson about life. Yes, before making anydecision consider its impact on the children. But, in theend, make up your own mind as to what would be best for thefamily as a whole.4) Look to the long term. Raising children is a long drawn-out process. Have your long-term goals in mind. How do youwant them to turn out as adults? What qualities and skillsdo they need to learn? What experiences do they need, alongthe way, to learn those skills and character traits?Many times as parents we are faced with the choice of takingan easy, short-term quick fix, or a harder approach thatwill bear much more fruit in the long term. The TV is sucha classic example of this. How easy is it, when the kidsare playing up, to just switch on the TV as the electronicbabysitter? A quick fix for the immediate hassle or rowdykids. But how much better, in the long run, to spend a bitof time teaching them how to build a model, or sew a softtoy, or put together a jigsaw?Call me a Luddite, if you will, but if you really want to bethe ultimate parent I believe the very best thing you coulddo would be to sell the TV! Go out to the cinema as afamily, instead. Or go around to your friends or relativesto watch a movie together as an "event". But don't justhave the TV on for hours every day. Why? Because of the old saying "garbage in, garbage out". Is the stuff on TV really what you want your kids to beabsorbing and learning? Do you really want them to dependon passive entertainment? Is it not better that they learnhow to entertain themselves?4) Look for the positives. Like you, your children willmake mistakes. Forgive them. Correct them gently and moveon. Always be looking for what they did right, not whatthey did wrong. Children crave their parents' attention. Pay attention to what they do wrong, and they will do moreof it. Pay attention to what they do right, and they willbe eager to please your more.Besides, it is just so much more fun to be in reward modethan punishment mode. Finding yourself stuck in punishment mode? Then go back toKey 1, recognise you need to change something, and have thehumility to go and get a good book, or seek help, so thatyou can find the way out.5) Stick to your guns. Believe in yourself. If you aredoing all the above, then you are well on the right track. There will be times when you make decisions and you getchallenged on them, either by your children, or by others(such as interfering relatives). Unless there genuinely arenew facts that you weren't aware of before, don't be swayed. And don't be afraid to say no - to your children and yourrelatives - if that is the right thing to say.Sure, your decision may turn out to be a bad one. Thathappens. Hindsight is 20-20. But far better to stick toyour decision, than to be a plastic bag blowing about in thebreeze. You children are watching you; watching how youdeal with life, how you make decisions, how you cope withadversity, how you believe in yourself and stand up foryourself and your family. Be a good example for them. --®Ï¯®Ï¯-- Dr. Noel Swanson, Consultant Child Psychiatrist and authorof "The GOOD CHILD Guide", specializes in children'sbehavioural difficulties and writes a free newsletter forparents. He can be contacted through his website:Expert Parenting Advice on Child Behavior Problems. This article is copyright, 2004. --®Ï¯®Ï¯--