If you are anything like me you have asked yourself or your partner on countless
occasions “Am I doing this parenting thing right?” I ask myself that all the time. I
don’t so much ask my wife anymore because she explains in detail how I missed
the mark. She will calmly tell me things like stripping a child of all rights to
the family name and excluding him from the will might be a bit excessive for
stuffing deli sliced turkey between the couch cushions. What else am I supposed
to do? We don’t spank and it was a second offense. Whatever.
Parenting is tough for myriad reasons, but one reason is because you have to deal with the
“now” in your parenting and simultaneously think the long term. Intimidating the child
that is bullying your child might be an excellent short-term solution but
obviously it would cause numerous long-term issues besides restraining orders
and possible incarceration. All kidding aside, one crucial aspect of parenting
is knowing when to let a child make mistakes and learn from them and when to
intervene and avoid the mistake altogether. I am working on that.
So how are you supposed to know if you are doing it right? I think that the answer, at
least partially, is that you don’t know if you are doing it right, but you will
know when you are doing it wrong. Classic example: Eli will repeat anything I
say. This has helped me teach him to count to 5 and (mostly) say his
ABC’s. That is good. Yesterday he dropped a serious profanity bomb. Why? Because he
repeats everything that Daddy says. He provided clear evidence that in this case
I parented badly. Another example: I have a child that drives. He drives just
like me. Mostly that is good, occasionally he provides me with proof that I
could have been a better driving example.
I don’t put too much stock in a child’s short-term behavior as a measure of parenting quality. I used to. Then I got children. I used to be one of those people who would look disapprovingly at the parents whose children are throwing fits. I used to judge. My oldest Parker, rarely did that. I was lucky. Then the two youngest ones came along. They are
fit ninjas. They are masters who use the medium of fit throwing to produce tantrum art. When he was younger Charlie would throw screaming fits in the grocery store
if he didn’t get a Lego or Transformer. If you know my family you know that
Charlie is African American. I am not. I would have to take him out of the store while he
was screaming and flailing and yelling “Help! Put me down!” People noticed.
My point here is that our children are normally well-behaved and happy. If
they act up in public then there is usually a reason. When I see a child
throwing a fit now I see a parent doing their best to deal with a child that is
probably hungry, tired or over stimulated.
Part of the problem with judging our children by their behavior and accomplishments is that we, as parents, are usually the ones setting the goals. If my kids don’t grow up to meet my specific expectations, does that mean I haven’t parented correctly? That might
sound like a silly question, but think about it. Anybody out there have a cousin
or sibling that decided not to be a doctor or athlete or attorney or otherwise
not meet a parental expectation? Think about it. Did the parent of that child ever
ask, “Where did I go wrong?”
Don’t get me wrong I know how scary the thought of parenting without a specific outcome for your child is. You think “If I don’thave a plan for them then they won’t have a direction.” What you are really saying is that if I don’t show them where to go, they will never get a job and move out of my house. Relax, kids move out. And it sucks when it happens.
I figure that the best we can do is do our best. My mother-in-law raised three
children, largely on her own. She worked throughout her kids childhood and I
have heard her say that she wasn’t around as much as she would have liked. One
of her expectations for her children is that they would go to college and,
presumably, graduate. This is beautiful in its simplicity. The children knew
that they were expected to go to college so they had to prepare to go to
college. Their grades had to be appropriate and that required studying and so
on. This simple expectation helped her shape her children’s behavior but was
general enough to let them make their own choices. I am sure she had other
expectations, but I am using this as an example of what I believe are realistic
As a result of having expectations set for them her children
all finished college and graduate schools. They are all strong well-adjusted people. I know I am over simplifying, but she was pretty successful when looked at from this angle.
Over the last year, I have gotten to know my children much better. I am now home with them during the day and I am amazed at how much I have missed. I am also amazed at how little I listened before. Charlie is not allowed to yell at is little brother or be physical with him. I was conditioned to hear him raise his voice or see him take something from Eli with more force than was necessary and immediately step in and stop the interaction.
Then I listened. On a recent occasion I saw Charlie grab something from his
brother and heard him yell. I listened and heard this:
“Elijah! Give that to me! That is sharp and you could poke yourself in the eye! If you hurt yourself your Big Brother would be way sad and feel bad and besides you need both
eyes to play football!”
I was a little stunned. The delivery was a little rough but the message was beautiful. I am still pondering the football reference but you never really know what Charlie is thinking. He was on a roll so I let him go with it. I am counting that on the parenting win side.
I think that we pretty much have to wait long-term to see how we did as
parents. I am getting pretty good early returns on our oldest. Parker is 21 now
and is engaged to a girl that he started dating when he was 16 and she was 14.
When he was a senior in high school we were hanging out at the house. We were
talking about different things and Charlie, about 3 at the time, was crawling
all over him. He looked at me and said, “I really want to be a father.” I was a
little stunned. Didn’t expect that. I wasn’t sure what else to do so I
I grasped weakly for my nitro glycerin. He was trying to break it
to me easy. I was going to be a grandfather. I told him when he started driving
that the two things I didn’t want to get called were ‘by the police,’ and
‘grandpa.’ Seriously, how could he do this? He knows what causes pregnancy and
how to prevent it . . . great . . . just great.
My thoughts must have been shooting out of my forehead because he helped me sit down on the couch, got me a drink of water and laughed at me. “I’m not trying to tell you anything. We’re not pregnant . . . Jeez, Dad, I was just saying that at some time in the
distant future, I assume I am going to be a father and I am looking forward to
He went on to explain that seeing me with Charlie and remembering
what it was like for us when he was younger made him think that he would be good
at fatherhood. He was looking forward to it. He and I would have our issues
after that of course, but for that moment I considered our parenting pretty
I don’t have any concrete anwers to the question “Am I Parenting Right?”, just some personal opinions. I think anybody who claims to have concrete answers will probably charge you for their book. It seems to me that all you can do is love them fiercely and then trust them. It’s every bit as tough as it sounds. For me it has been every bit as hard as it sounds, but I wouldn’t trade a minute of it.
See you soon on This Side of the Diaper.