You’re Doing A Good Job!
As I have mentioned elsewhere, my wife and I spent several years running a home for adolescents. Since then, we have transitioned from raising children whose parents were unable to, to raising our own children. Due to these experiences, it occurred to me last year that at the time, my wife and I had parented children of every age from birth to 18 except 7. In all of those years raising children, we had never had a 7 year-old.
Our oldest is 7 now and we are completely lost on what to do! We are only hoping to get through the year until she’s 8 and we can fall back on our prior parenting experience with 8-year-olds.
I kid, of course.
Seven-year-olds are different from children of other ages but the principle of being attentive and sensitive to their developmental needs still applies.
All that to say, as my wife and I have raised children of all ages, we have been around parents who are at all stages of parenting whether it be through play dates, extra-curricular activities or something else.
From being around other parents, two refrains seem to most often come up regardless of the child’s respective age or gender.
One, is my child normal?
Two, am I doing everything right?
Is my child normal?
No, your child is not normal. There does not exist a ‘normal’ child. Normal implies a specific set of standards from which every child can be compared against to determine how many standard deviations away from normal they may be. The interplay between genetics and environments is much too complex for anything such as a normal to reliably exist.
At best, a child can be considered normative. That is, a child who is normative generally meets the broad developmental guidelines that are expected for children their age assuming no developmental delays or other barriers have occurred. I.e. Talking between 1 – 2 years old, tying their own shoes around Kindergarten, being able to think critically in their twenties, etc. As these guidelines are broad, there is much variance in when a child may achieve them.
Most parents seem to readily accept that their children are normative. And when there are concerns, there is help often readily available through a child’s pediatrician or a mental health professional. I would even go so far as to suggest that the question of “is my child normal” is actually just another form of asking the second question listed above.
Am I doing everything right?
No, it’s likely that you are not doing everything right in your parenting. It’s likely you’ve missed an opportunity to reinforce a vital lesson. It’s likely that more than once your perfectly planned day has gone horribly awry within five minutes of your children getting up. It’s likely you’ve prioritized something else over your children at some time or another. It’s likely you didn’t start your children early enough or you had them specialize too late for them to become the best in the world at whatever hobby they showed a passing interest in at some point.
In our culture, there is incredible pressure to do everything the ‘right’ way. And by right, I do not mean morally/ethically. By right I mean, in a way that it is clear that I have ‘won’ the most complete victory possible at the game of life. The problem though is that just as there does not exist a ‘normal’ child from which we could objectively draw a path from to ours and develop specific steps to make up that gap, there does not exist a clear, objective ‘right’ way to parent.
There are broad parenting approaches that very much should be incorporated into parenting such as attachment theory, positive reinforcement and modeling the behavior you want your child to display. But, the problem with parenting approaches is that everyone has a different way of implementing them.
There is no absolute parent who is number one at parenting and everyone else is attempting to mimic or knock them off their perch like in college football during the fall. Though, admittedly, a weekly ranked poll of “Best Parent in America” does seem like something in the wheelhouse of our culture.
Parenting is tough work. You’re never going to get it completely right no matter how much you know and how hard you try. Not because you’re doing it wrong or because theories of child development are wrong. No, you’re never going to get it completely right because the children you are raising are born with a natural self-efficacy that sometimes wants the exact opposite of what you want. We do not take home robots from the hospital who are just awaiting the proper programming that will guarantee the most success in life.
Now that it has been established that you are probably not doing everything right as a parent, I have a question and an observation.
First, the question:
So you haven’t done everything right, so what? You’re likely doing more right than you’ve acknowledged. Just the fact that you’re reading this suggests to me that you are probably doing a lot right. Not because I have anything profound to say but because any one reading this likely has at least a desire to be a good parent.
Well-placed desire can go a long way in raising happy, healthy and successful children as desire challenges us to be better. I.e. My desire to be a good parent doesn’t drive me to do nothing, it drives me to examine my current parenting practices and determine where changes need to be made.
Of course, desire can be misplaced. Desiring to be a good parent for the good of your own self-image over what is best for your children is probably not great. The desire to be a good parent causing you to feel overly anxious and self-critical is, obviously, not great. But, again, well-placed desire allows for honest introspection, healthy seeking and good implementation of the best parenting approaches.
If I was only allowed to say one thing to parents, it would be this:
You’re doing a good job.
If you’re not abusing or neglecting your children but you are consistently there for them in whatever way you can be, if you’re trying to raise your children to be the best versions of themselves, if you’re just going day by day feeling like you’re barely surviving the chaos that parenting often is, if you’re trying at all in some way to be the kind of parent your child needs, then you’re doing a good job. Keep it up!