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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 the children.

          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 parent].

    "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 valued;

    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 harmonious relationships.

          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.  



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