I am often asked about different parenting styles, and what is the best way to parent. In all my time working with families I have never met a parent who doesn’t desire to be the best parent they can be. Parenting books, apps, programs, TV shows and podcasts are popular for this exact reason, parenting is a job we all want to be “good at” but many of us are unsure what “good” actually looks like.
Many parents will ask me what they have to “do” to be a good parent. “How do I know that I’m a good mum?” “I just want to be a good mum but I’m not sure what that looks like.” These questions are almost impossible to answer because in day to day interactions between a mother and her baby or child there are countless scenarios of things our children may do, or behaviours that we as parents may find difficult to respond to. And each parent has their own struggles, we all face our own triggers when it comes to our children.
Some parents may struggle in the newborn phase when their baby “just wants to be on me all the time!” Other parents find it more difficult when their baby moves into toddlerhood and starts to understand and practise their own independence, typically by saying “NO!”. Then there are the challenges that come with preschool aged children who are still developmentally egocentric and impulsive but often as parents we feel like they “should know better by now”, or “are old enough to know how to behave”. Parenting is a hard gig, it is only made more challenging when we are triggered by the behaviour of our baby or child. When this happens we may feel frustrated, irritated and almost like we can’t think straight. Even in this space we want to respond calmly and in the “right way” but we may not be sure what the right way is! So we read the books, we talk to our friends, we search online, we install the app, all because we want to be the best parents we can be. So what does it look like? To be a good parent?
Well the trick is that it looks different for everyone. If that sounds unhelpful let’s break it down. Every baby is born into their own unique family. Every family is different and every parent is an individual. As individuals we have our own values, beliefs and core principles. What is important to me may not be as important to you. This may seem basic, but as parents if we can be clear about what is important to us, then we can be clear about what behaviours, daily patterns and lessons we want to teach our children. Because it doesn’t matter if you only ever used a baby carrier, or if you want your baby to go in the pram. It doesn’t matter if your baby sleeps in a bassinet or co sleeps. It doesn’t actually matter if your toddler was toilet trained at 2 or still in nappies at 3. It doesn’t even matter if you routinely went to the library every Saturday or if your child starts school not being able to write their own name. When we look at growing our little people into healthy, well adjusted, kind adults, the only thing that actually matters is that their childhood was safe, consistent, kind, loving and secure.
As parents we can only achieve consistency if we are parenting from our heart, not from a book. This doesn’t mean that we can’t grow and learn and change as parents, but it does mean that we need to respond in a consistent manner that is in line with our own values and beliefs. We can’t respond consistently when we are trying to remember what the book said to do.
In order to show kindness and love to our children we need to be kind and loving towards ourselves as well. As a parent you will get it wrong, you will not always respond in a calm way, you may have to reflect on your own behaviour and try to do better the next time. The good news is that if we can allow ourselves to falter, then our kids know they don’t have to be perfect to be loved.
Feeling secure allows children to thrive. Security comes from being loved and feeling understood. As parents we need to be curious about our children. They are individuals and it can be a great joy seeing them grow and getting to know their likes, dislikes, interests and strengths.
So it turns out that the best parenting style is one founded on connection, curiosity, consistency and kindness. From there it’s a choose your own adventure kind of deal.
If you want any help getting clear about your values and beliefs when it comes to parenting or working through any past parenting experiences that may be stopping you from showing up for your child in the way you want, our Child Health service has many helpful resources and can provide personalised advice to help you enjoy your parenting journey.