If someone were to ask parents this question, they’d get a range of answers:
“I’m a strict parent.”
“I’m more of a friend than a parent to my children.”
“I just leave them alone unless they are wildly out of line.”
“I like to know exactly what’s going on in their lives.”
There is no ‘best’ kind of parent. It is merely your idea of what kind of parent you are. And yet, this very idea becomes your burden – and your child’s burden.
Let’s take the idea of “I’m a strict parent.” You say this with some pride. You are a no-nonsense parent who is bringing up ‘good’ children who will grow up to become ‘good’ and ‘worthy’ human-beings. You have your rules which you explain, clarify, and enforce consistently. You believe this is a ‘good’ kind of parent to be, so you have worked towards being this kind of parent: a ‘strict’ parent.
But by labeling yourself a ‘strict’ parent, you create a prison for yourself – you want to work always inside the boundaries of ‘strictness’ which you believe is ‘good’ in a parent.
Never mind that there are many occasions when your heart is melting. Just as you begin to respond with how you truly feel, you are reminded of how important you believe it is to be ‘strict’ and instead of giving your natural response, you give your ‘strict’ response, keeping up your image of yourself as a ‘good’ parent (all this image-building and maintenance is happening only inside your head! 🙂 )
Your child has just had a nightmare. You want to hold him close till you calm his fears and his trembling body. But you are very aware that you are a ‘strict’ parent, and no ‘strict’ parent would be so indulgent of what is, after all, only a bad dream. So you hold back, tell him “it is only a bad dream, there is nothing to worry about. Now go to sleep”, and force yourself to turn around and leave his room. Neither you nor your child is at peace. His fears are not assuaged, and your peace of mind is gone – because your response was based upon your idea of the kind of parent you are, instead of the parent you actually were at that moment – the one who wanted to gather her child close in her arms to make him feel safe and secure.
You’ve kept up your image, but at what cost to yourself? And to your child?
The ‘easy-going’ parent has the opposite kind of issues. There will be many situations which shock or appall you, which make you want to put your foot down and say “NO”. But you are mindful of your image as an ‘easy-going’ parent. And ‘No’ is not a word found too often in an easy-going parent’s vocabulary, so you watch your child go haywire in all kinds of ways, but you say nothing, do nothing. You bite your tongue, steel your nerves, and remain an ‘easy-going’ parent.
No matter what your self-image as a parent, no matter what kind of parent you think you are, the real you cannot take the strain beyond a point. When you reach that point, you become irritable, worried, anxious, adding further stress to an already strained situation.
Not content with creating your own prison in the form of labeling yourself as a particular kind of parent, you have been working actively to reduce the size of your prison, till you are stifled.
As your niggling dissatisfaction turns to active discontent, you look for reasons all around you, outside you – the kids are pushing your buttons, you haven’t been getting enough rest exercise sleep food, there are too many demands on you… You are so busy looking for a situation/person you can hold responsible (blame!) that it doesn’t even occur to you that you are the source of your problem. Heck, you are the problem!
You might think your consistent responses as a particular kind of parent are creating a firm set of rules for your child to follow, but in all probability, they confuse the hell out of her. Your child always knows when ‘you mean it’ and when ‘you don’t really mean it’. So when your authentic response matches your self-image, the message she’s getting is ‘Dad means it’. But when the two are not in line with each other, she doesn’t know whether you mean it or not, she doesn’t know what to make of your reaction. How can she? You yourself don’t know what to make of your response! You are acting from a mind and heart torn by conflicting responses.
All you end up doing is confusing your child and yourself, and laying the foundation for ‘not telling the truth’. After all, if you feel one way and you act another, and you do this regularly, you’re being dishonest. You are breaking (or at least loosening) the bond of trust between yourself and your child.
Your child will learn to make inauthentic responses – she will learn from you. You will be unhappy about it, you will urge her to tell you how he ‘really’ feels, but she won’t be able to; not unless you have broken out of your self-imposed ‘image’ as a parent, and are telling her how you ‘really’ feel.
Don’t worry about what kind of parent you are. Don’t worry about what kind of parent you want to be. Just make the response that comes naturally to you in a given situation. It will be the best response you can make. Simply be the parent that you ARE in that moment, and enjoy the freedom it brings you! 🙂