Becoming a parent changes our lives in an instant. It is a beautiful privilege that comes with challenges and big questions. Questions, like, “Am I making the right decision?” or, “Am I a good parent?”. Most of the time, we’re left to our own thoughts to try to answer that question. Some days we may not like our answer.
The Good Parent or Bad Parent Trap
Although I am only two years into my journey of fatherhood, one trap I see myself fall into is the “label” trap. Throughout the day, I’ll give myself the good parent label, or sometimes the bad parent label. In a moment where I attempt to intervene during a tantrum, I’ll think, “Wow, I was really patient there. That was a good parent moment.” If I respond out of frustration and emotion, I might think, “Wow, I really messed that one up.” At that moment, I’ve awarded myself the bad parent label.
It’s instinctual for us to think by using labels and categories. Categorization, or labeling, helps us to understand something and communicate something about it. Good and bad, however, are categories based on our own subjective understanding of what is good or bad. Something that one good parent does, might actually be really bad if you asked another parent. These labels aren’t very universal or helpful to us.
Know Your Values
What if instead of the good parent and bad parent labels, we started thinking about new ways to describe our parenting? What about courageous or present? If we start by identifying our values as parents, we increase our chances of being the parents we want to be. We also avoid the trap of having to do everything “right” all the time in order to be a good parent.
It’s important to know what your parenting values are. When we are in tune with our values, we are more likely to make decisions that communicate our values. For example, perhaps time spent together as a family is one of your values. If you enforce the practice of Sunday being set aside for time spent with the family, you might feel some pushback when your kids say they want to spend time with friends. Despite the pushback, stick to your value. Explain why spending time together is one of your family values. When you see your kids make the same decision someday for their own kids, you’ll know your value made a lasting impact.
Something that’s been incredibly helpful in establishing my own parenting values is Brené Brown’s Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto. This brief series of parenting commitments comes from Brown’s book, Rising Strong. It speaks to being courageous and vulnerable as a parent. It also reminds me that what our children learn from us depends on how we behave in our own moments of stress, fear, or responsibility. My goal is not to be a good parent, but rather to be a parent that is courageous, vulnerable, and deeply known by my kids.
You can find Brené Brown’s Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto here.