Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"What Makes a Good Parent?"


Over the course of my pregnancy, I have been told by several people that I am going to make a great mother. I appreciate the sentiment, because I, like most people, I think, tend to believe that the Blob lost the parenting lottery (at least where I am concerned . . . not where Mr. J is concerned).

However, it has made me wonder what, exactly, constitutes a "good parent?" Chances are that whatever responses I could give would find some shaking their heads at my naivete. Still, I have lots of time on my hands for self-exploration at this point. My "Letters to the Blob" have been part of that introspection, as I wonder if the words I have for my unborn child at this point will still be true years from now when I have years of . . . you know . . . actual parenting behind me.

So after considering this question for some time, here's what I have come up with as far as what I believe makes one a "good parent."

At the very least, these are some of the things I hope to implement into my own upcoming life with the Blob. I welcome your thoughts and suggestions, as always, and freely acknowledge that, with respect to this subject, mine is the voice of ignorance:

1) A good parent must set boundaries based on authority. My child will have friends, of that I have no doubt. Someday, I hope that he or she will consider me to be a parent and a friend. But in the beginning, as I am trying to raise him or her, I believe there must be no question that I am the parent and he or she is the child. Sometimes, it is simply going to come down to "because I said so."

2) A good parent educates her child while allowing that child to be educated by life. Children don't live in a bubble. As a parent, I believe it will be my responsibility to teach my child about the world around him or her, about matters of faith, about the values I hold dear, about the necessities of life, about the value of hard work and hard-earned money. Unless I plan on having my child live life completely insulated from the rest of the world, though, I have to be willing to allow others to contribute to that education. Teachers will help introduce my child to the basic concepts of reading, writing, and arithmetic (among other subjects). He or she will learn from other children, as well . . . things that I would rather my child not know, I am sure.

As a parent, I hope that my child will view me as a resource, and when the hard questions come based on information obtained out in the world, I hope that, as a parent, I will address those questions directly, rather than railing against the world that I feel might be usurping my role, or undermining my teachings.

I hope that, by accepting that information comes from an infinite number of sources, and by discussing that information with my child, he or she will be able to make informed decisions based on the world as it truly exists, rather than simply as a one-dimensional picture I might paint for him or her.

3) A good parent arms her child to protect himself or herself against harm. I know what I did when I was younger, despite the teachings of my mother. I know that there will come a time when my child will make decisions for himself or herself over which I have little or no control.

Even though there are times that I will hope "because I said so" is good enough, realistically, I know that won't always be the case. That's reality, and knowing that, I believe a good parent prepares his or her child for independence with knowledge.

I will tell my child the dangers of drinking and driving, the risks associated with premarital sex, the fatalities that result from unprotected sex, rather than simply teaching that good girls and boys don't do such things. My child will not be punished for going against "because I said so." Instead, by arming him or her with information, I hope to establish a defense that will protect him or her, even when I would rather just have my Blob.

4) A good parent listens. I hope that my child never hears that maxim "Children should be seen but not heard."

If we aren't willing to listen to them when they are younger, how can we hope for them to exercise their voices when they are adults? I want my child to ask questions, to challenge the information he or she is given, to think for himself or herself, and I can't comprehend how silencing such discussions, simply because they might be inconvenient or uncomfortable for me, accomplishes anything but a moment of silence. It's not worth it.

5) A good parent makes time. The song "Cat's in the Cradle" has always struck a chord in me, no pun intended. If you aren't familiar with the song, the father tells his adoring child that he doesn't have time for him when he was young and impressionable, dreaming of being just like his father.

Eventually, the father wants to spend time with his son, only to be told that his son had no time for him. I know that life is busy and overwhelming at times, but I wanted this child. I have to make time for him or her if I want him or her to make time for me. It won't always be possible, but I really hope that "I'm too busy is the rare exception, rather than the rule.

6) A good parent knows the difference between effective punishment and abuse. Sometimes, I think, spanking is appropriate. Words can be abusive and can do irreparable damage.

7) A good parent teaches responsibility. I can clean up spilled milk and launder muddy clothes, but I can't possibly clean up every mistake my child might make as though there were no consequences. I can also teach my child to clean up his or her room, but there are things he or she will not be able to reverse. It is my job to teach my child the difference, to instill in him or her that there are consequences that must be accepted in life.

8) A good parent offers unconditional love. It's that simple. It involves telling your child that you love him or her, but also showing him or her through our actions.

9) A good parent is supportive. I would love for the Blob to grow up to be the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. He or she might want to be a rock star. I believe that a good parent supports the dream, and continues to offer support through the success or failure of that dream.

If we want our children to believe that anything is possible, there has to be someone in their corner telling them that it is. I believe that should be the parent, even when the parent wants something else. Eventually, it is no longer about us and what we want, and as the sun sets on our time, I want my child to have his or her time knowing that I believe in him or her. Completely.

10) A good parent knows there is no such thing as a perfect parent and doesn't even try to achieve that impossibility. I really hope I remember this one. These are just generic principles. I would think most parents would call them elementary. It is the implementation that gives rise to so much dispute and disagreement over proper parenting skills.

For me, I know there are specifics I want my child to know, such as the recognition of the world's diversity, tolerance of alternative lifestyles, the unacceptability of hateful and offensive slurs, the existence of different religious beliefs, the importance and value of family, that he or she will never be used as a weapon by me to hurt others, the importance of kindness and compassion, the use of violence only as a last resort, and general respect for humanity, regardless of their backgrounds and beliefs come to mind, but I think they fall within the general principles of what makes a good parent.

Your thoughts, in general or specifically? I'm not kidding, I really would appreciate all the advice I can get. I'm new to this and I know I have many things I need to learn.

What do you think makes a good parent,and how does one accomplish that goal?

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