Am I a Good Parent?
by Win and Bill Sweet
One of the most shocking discoveries we have made is that parenting is so
often about the parents, not about the children. A Halloween cartoon depicts
a Dad towering over a child dressed to go "trick or treating." The caption
has the Dad saying, "What will people think of me if I let you go out looking
like that?" Unfortunately, this attitude drives much of parenting. But what
about the children?
While we were visiting a family, one of the girls was talking on the phone,
and the other was engrossed in a drawing project. Dad suddenly boomed, "It's
time for bed NOW!" Both children resented the command to immediately
interrupt their activities. One stormed to her room and slammed the door; the
other girl steadfastly refused to brush her teeth. Dad raced after the girls.
When he returned, he announced that Karen had apologized for slamming the
door and was sullenly getting ready for bed. Carol did finally brush her
teeth while sobbing as if her heart would break.
Dad was triumphant, and he seemed to be saying with great satisfaction, "I'm
a good Dad." But measuring by the emotional experience of the girls would
give him quite a different report card. In the consciousness of both girls
the emotional wreckage left behind from that scene was a potentially
explosive situation waiting to happen at a later time. A belligerent,
uncooperative child is generally one who does not feel honored or valued, and
certainly the girls did not feel honored or valued. It was all about Dad, not
Is it any wonder that so many families experience terrible teen years, the
time when children finally attain some autonomy? What a different scene this
would have been if the condition of each girl's emotional core—that
invisible resource from where the automatic responses to life come—was Dad's
measure of the quality of his parenting.
Every parent wants to feel valuable and to be recognized as doing the
parenting job well. The obvious extension of "I'm a good parent," is "I'm a
good and worthy person." There is nothing wrong with that. We all seek the
contentment and security of knowing that about ourselves. However, if a
parent judges by a flawed criterion or measure of whether she or he is a good
parent, the assumption may be, "Yes, I'm a good parent," but in reality the
parenting may not be in the best interest of the child or the family.
In the case of the Dad in the above example, the measure he used to judge his
parenting was the cultural expectation of immediate obedience with no "back
talk." This does not take into consideration what the child is experiencing.
The girls could go to bed without emotional trauma if their feelings were
recognized and accommodated with no set bedtime or with a reasonable
transition period. Then Dad could say to himself, "I'm a good Dad because we
are functioning well together with no stress or emotional trauma."
Unfortunately, many parents erroneously measure their parenting skills by
culturally based criteria that are not indicative of the condition of each
child's emotional core, for example:
"Jennifer was eight last week and already she's writing excellent four-page
essays," [so I am a good parent].
"Look, Judy knows all the times tables and she's only six," [so I am a good
"Lisa was the star of the piano recital; she didn't make a single mistake in
a very difficult piece," [so I am a good parent].
"Listen, David is only four and he can read this book without a single
mistake," [so I am a good parent].
Care of the emotional core consists mainly of giving thought and attention to
balancing two activities—avoiding and providing. For example:
Avoiding the presence of stress in the child's life,
Providing opportunity for the child to feel self-directed;
Avoiding experiences for which the child is not ready,
Providing the child with a consistent environment of feeling honored and
Avoiding criticism (criticism cripples),
Providing an environment of gentle guidance;
Avoiding situations in which the children "lose face,"
Providing protection from even the tiniest embarrassment or humiliation.
Generally, there is no problem with the child. The problem lies in the
environment in which the child must live. Correct the environment and the
problem goes away. If it is impossible in some cases to change the
environment, do not be hard on the child for the resulting behavior.
If your child can enter the next year, the next activity, the next segment of
growth, and finally adulthood, with a stress-free emotional core that is
strong, solid, and intact, she or he will have a precious wealth that money
can never buy. There will be a joyful attitude, freedom from debilitating
emotional baggage, clarity of thinking, authentic self-confidence to meet
challenges, and access to valuable personal resources of strength and wisdom. Your child will be comfortable with herSelf or himSelf and able to establish
These are the most precious gifts you can give to
your child. They will extend far beyond basic parenting issues, such as food,
shelter, safety, and a "good" education. These gifts will last a lifetime.
The condition of your child's emotional core* is the best long-term measure
by which to answer the question, "Am I a good parent?"
Dad can really feel good when, at the end of the day, he can say, "I've been
a good parent today because my girls have not suffered stress as a result of
my behavior. Instead, they have felt honored and valued, not for what they
have done or not done, but for who they inherently are—their true Self."
*For further explanation of the emotional core, see chapters 7 and 8 of
Living Joyfully with Children by Win and Bill Sweet.