OPINION: What Makes a Parent Good?

Crystal Jackson

Photo byKelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Years before I had children, I had a foggy idea of what good parenting would look like. I based it on my childhood — what I loved and what I didn’t. A hazy vision formed, and I thought good parenting looked something like this…

A household where voices were never raised in anger and where what children had to say mattered. A place where children could be loved for being themselves. Where children went on field trips with enough money for lunch and a souvenir from the gift shop and never felt embarrassed for having so much less than everyone else. Where kids had their own rooms and the best treehouse on the block. Where families played ball together and had picnics in the park.

But real parenting, as I would one day discover, is hard. We rarely give our parents enough credit. What people don’t like to point out when family planning is that we all have our baggage — and few of us unpack it before we have children. Parents are people, and they make mistakes. We grow into parents who make the same mistakes or different ones entirely. It’s a cycle that continues until someone, somewhere, breaks it.

Good parenting now looks different than I once thought. It has elements of that hazy vision, but sometimes voices are raised because we’re only human here. My kids have their own rooms positively brimming with toys but don’t always appreciate them because they’ve never known anything else.

Good parenting, for me, looks like single parenting. Divorce didn’t factor into that vision of my future. My former spouse gets to be the part-time parent, the good guy who never has to say no, and the amusement park parent while I have to lay down the law, check homework, drive them to activities, attend all the appointments, and sit in on each and every parent-teacher conference that could have been an email. I’m not the parent I thought I’d be, but I’m learning to love the parent I am.

How to Be a Good Part-Time Parent

I believe part-time parents can still be good parents. It requires that they show up — even when it’s challenging, or the other parent is presenting obstacles to the relationship. Effort and involvement are required for parenting. There are so many ways to be a good parent, even part-time.

  • Advocate for your children.
  • Make sure anyone else involved in their children’s lives are just as positive, loving, and supportive as the primary parents.
  • Back up the rules of the primary parent.
  • Facilitate positive parental relationships with the co-parent and make sure children feel secure and accepted in both households.

All these factors make a parent good at parenting even if we have to grit our teeth while facilitating relationships with former partners. Parental alienation, unfortunately, is real, and while it might feel good in the moment to damage that relationship with the other parent, it doesn’t just hurt the person we’re angry with. In fact, it’s most damaging to the children when we fail to facilitate healthy relationships with their other parent, barring putting them at risk of abuse.

How to Be a Good Parent (Full or Part Time)

Good parenting is more than just providing food, clothing, and shelter… or it should be.

  • We should be helping our children break generational cycles. We dismiss the idea that the way we had it was good enough, and we give them better experiences and opportunities while working our hardest to help them appreciate and value them. It means we don’t normalize abuse, and we don’t perpetuate it either just because we survived it. Good parents try and fail — and try again to do better.
  • We need to teach the next generation the coping mechanisms we learned much later in life. We need to help them learn to regulate their emotions in healthy ways and practice self-care.
  • We need to stop trying to shove them into boxes of gender norms and 9–5 jobs and start teaching them how to live their lives in ways that feel joyful and meaningful to them.
  • We can prioritize learning over education, failure and growth over trophies and wins, and balance over hustle culture.
  • We should attempt to raise good people — kind people, loving people who include, accept, and support others.
  • We should model healthy relationships so that our children have the chance to know what that looks like.
  • Good parents apologize. They are accountable for their actions. Good parents are able to take responsibility without deflecting the blame or getting defensive.
  • Good parents can practice discipline without retaliation, teach without punishing, and lead by example.
  • Good parents see the truth of their children and don’t seek to shape them into something else. They support even the differences. Good parenting doesn’t look like turning out carbon copies who think the way we do.
  • Good parents define success for their children differently than they were taught. It doesn’t look like material success or academic achievement. It looks like raising healthy children capable of being self-reliant while also understanding and appreciating the value of healthy relationships and a supportive community.
  • Good parents address their own issues so that they can be better caretakers and role models. Good parents model what they preach and do what they say they will.
  • Good parents show up. They try. When they fail, they keep trying.
  • Good parents advocate for consent and bodily autonomy and never pressure a child to hug or interact with a person who makes them uncomfortable.
  • Good parents address their own disordered eating and exercise and any unhealthy relationship with their body image so that their children can grow up loving themselves and internalizing positive messages about different body shapes and sizes.
  • Good parents make sure that the things they say to their children count as loving, supportive words that will feed their self-esteem.

While this list isn’t all-inclusive, it does give a general outline on how we can parent the next generation just a little better to give them the life skills they’ll need to thrive. We’re not perfect, and we may not check off every item on this list. Consider it aspirational. Parenting is so much more than just financially providing. If we’re doing it right, we’re raising a kinder, healthier generation and creating a kinder, healthier world.

How to Be a Good Stepparent

Many families are blended, and parenting also involves step-parenting. Being a good stepparent may not always be easy — but when is parenting ever easy? There are still a few things a stepparent can do to be a better than average parent.

  • Good stepparents treat stepchildren equal to their own. If it doesn’t feel possible to love and support them without showing preferential treatment or acting inconvenienced by their existence, a person probably shouldn’t be a stepparent.
  • Good stepparents speak positively about their other parent — even if they’re not a fan. It’s not the stepparent’s place to criticize the other parent. It’s their place to help facilitate positive relationships and to make sure children realize they are loved, supported, and wanted.
  • Good stepparents back up the primary parent, which may not be the one they partner. They make sure rules are somewhat consistent between households.
  • They coordinate with other parents regarding activities, birthdays, and holidays. Keeping lines of communication open can help facilitate stronger relationships.
  • They don’t compare stepchildren to any other children they may have. It’s not a competition, and everyone loses when comparisons are made.

Stepparents can be full or part-time parents, but these guidelines can help anyone be a better parent.

Good Parents — In Conclusion

I am not a perfect parent. I’ll never be one. I’m not even shooting for perfection. I know that I’ve made mistakes and will likely continue to do so. But I’m trying.

I talk to a lot of my friends about what it means to be a good parent. We all have our areas of focus — the areas we feel are most valuable. For me, I want my children to be the most secured, loved, and authentic version of themselves. I want to give them the best shot at being healthy, independent adults one day. I want to raise them with a sense of adventure and a zest for living. I want a home filled with laughter and children who know that my love for them is unconditional.

I’m not the Pinterest-parent I thought I’d be, and my house is often chaos. I’m learning to love this parent that I am — to embrace my strengths and practice compassion for my challenges. I am trying. Good parenting is far harder than we ever imagined, but as long as we’re considering what it means to be a good parent and doing our best to practice those philosophies, the better of a parent we’ll be.

Originally published on Medium

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Crystal Jackson is a former therapist turned writer. She is the author of the Heart of Madison series and a volume of poetry entitled My Words Are Whiskey. Her work has been featured on Medium, Elite Daily, Thought Catalog, The Good Men Project, and Elephant Journal. When she's not writing, you can find her traveling, paddle boarding, cycling, throwing axes badly but with terrifying enthusiasm, hiking, or curled up with her nose in a book in Madison, Georgia, where she lives with one puppy and two wild and wonderful children. Crystal writes about relationships, mental health, parenting, social justice, and more. Never miss an update. Subscribe to emails: https://crystaljacksonwriter.substack.com/

Madison, GA

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