Many parents today find themselves overwhelmed and confused as they sort through a plethora of parenting books, theories, and techniques. While it is wonderful that modern educational and philosophical trends support and reinforce parenting pedagogy as the most difficult and important skill set, many parents now find themselves unable to sort through the flood of often contradictory information.
As our understanding of the many facets of child development evolves, the nature of the parent-child relationship changes, as does our cultural view of ideal roles and responsibilities.
If we take a step back and look at just the past hundred years, the pendulum of responsibility, honor, and unconditional love has swung from the child’s camp into that of the parent. Furthermore, the flexibility and effort that was once placed on diverse children to meet the demands and expectations of society, has now becomes society’s charge in order to support and nurture the development of all types of children. Children once existed to be molded by societal and cultural norms so that they could fill necessary roles and jobs.
While the enactment of this was once extreme, many now feel that the parenting pendulum has swung too far into permissiveness. Some parents feel that it is their responsibility to keep their children happy all of the time, or that difficult childhood behaviors are always the result of poor parenting.
What may be helpful to parents is to recognize that most parenting trends or theories have at least a grain of truth, validity, and wisdom. However, when one value is focused on to the exclusion of others, (even those that may seem mutually exclusive), parenting becomes extreme and unbalanced. The most critical parenting skill is to remain moderate and balanced in all that we teach and model.
Here are some things to think about in remaining balanced in your parenting:
- Each value or healthy component of parenting has an “opposite” value to balance it out. For example, children need lots of structure in order to feel that life is calm, orderly, and predictable. Parents need to create and hold to this structure even when children push back against it, in order to maintain a healthy system. However, structure and all of its wonderful components need to be balanced out by flexibility. Structure is not synonymous with rigidity. Sometimes, the structure needs to bend and be more flexible depending on the needs of the child and the circumstance. A structure without flexibility is oppressive. However, too much flexibility all of the time creates chaos. Our job as parents is to find the right balance taking into account the unique needs of our individual homes and family systems. The same kind of balance can be said for creating rules and expectations while still fostering an environment of collaboration. Or, setting limits and creating consequences while still offering support, empathy, and validation.
- Validation, agreement, and justification are three different things! Validation is about accepting another’s reality (thoughts, feelings, and perceptions) and trying to understand their unique experience with empathy. However, listening to their experience and expressing that you understand and have empathy for it, does NOT mean that you agree with their conclusions. You can agree to disagree without having to invalidate the other. You may have two different experiences and opinions but still work to understand and validate each other. We all have our own truth, and reality is quite subjective. We never have to feel that we must agree with someone else in order to validate his or her experience. It is crucial that we validate our children’s experience and this is always doable even when we really disagree with them. And…we don’t need to feel invalidated when our children disagree with us! Finally, we can try to understand our children’s behavior without feeling or expressing that that behavior is acceptable. If your child is provoked into hitting by other children, you can certainly understand how that happened but that doesn’t mean you agree that hitting was the right response. We can express our understanding without justifying behavior. This helps children to feel that they are understood while still learning that behavior is a choice.
- Lastly, good self-care is often the key to mindful, balanced parenting. Parenting is difficult and stressful during the best of times and in order to teach and implement the many components of balanced parenting, we need to take care of our own physical, emotional, and relational needs. Part of being balanced is practicing self-acceptance, forgiveness, and self-validation in the same space as the desire for growth and improvement.
Written by Lauren Ehrenreich, LISW-S