The main lesson I learned about parenting is that it doesn’t stop. Once a parent, always a parent! Each of us has an idea about good parenting skills. What makes a good parent? Does anyone have an answer to that question that will go unchallenged by someone else?
Each child grows into their own person with all the inherent imperfection that this entails. Healthy parenting recognises and embraces these perceived imperfections.
Parenting styles differ from person to person. It should also differ from child to child. Each child’s situation is unique, and they respond differently to the same things. While one child may throw a temper tantrum to get what they want, another might prefer to crawl under the bed and cry silently.
Positive parenting is recognising how best to make kids aware of their own needs and feelings without forcing your own. As I learn everyday, it is a darned difficult thing to do. Inevitably, I make mistakes everyday and learn something about myself in the process.
The world is full of parenting tips for new parents. Do this, don’t do that! Whatever road you choose, it will be lined with people criticising your choice. I find it is always better to listen to the people actually involved in the process of raising the child – parent, co-parent or caregiver, and most importantly, the child themselves.
Even as a baby, my son would clearly communicate with cries or gurgles what he liked or didn’t. Pay close attention. The answer is always in front of you.
Common parenting mistakes we make unknowingly:
Every parent makes mistakes. That’s inevitable. What’s also inevitable is that many of these mistakes are made by parents who are not using the proper techniques. So let’s talk about some mistakes that everyone makes and how you should respond when things go wrong.
It is helpful to remember that it is not a criticism of you or your parenting choices. We are not given any training on being a parent and are just doing the best we know how to do.
These are 5 common mistakes that most parents (like me) make. What helped me was to read about experiences of other parents and taking the time to reflect how some of these behaviours are manifesting in our lives.
Listen, learn, introspect, and incorporate only if required…that’s my motto.
Parenting mistake no 1: Living vicariously through our kids
A lot of us who have had unmet needs as kids feel they need to make doubly sure that their kids don’t lack it in their lives. We didn’t have much toys growing up so I will fill a room full of toys for my kid. Or I didn’t get to learn the piano so I will enroll my child whether they like it or not.
There are a lot of subtle ways this manifests in our lives. My son doesn’t like arts and crafts but he thought he had to do it so I would be happy with him. It’s a long journey to undo that feeling and help them realise they don’t need to please anyone but themselves.
Overcompensating or living through our kid’s lives can have adverse effects on their mental health.
Parenting mistake no 2: Comparing one with others
I am guilty of doing this even now once in a while. We’re so hard-wired to compare ourselves with others that we convey that pressure to our kids as well. What you’re telling the child is that if only you do this then we’ll be able to love you better. But that list of what you want from them is never ending.
I find that even when I’m not saying this thought out loud, I’m thinking it, and that affects my actions. I was thinking that kids younger than him are better at drawing, so I made him spend extra time learning to draw. He did not enjoy it at all. I had to remind myself that everyone doesn’t enjoy the same things…and that’s ok!
Parenting mistake no 3: Worrying about success but not contentment
I remember shorty after I got married, I had moved into a new home. The neighbour after a few days came and apologised that she hasn’t been able to say hi since she was worried about her daughter’s exams. Her daughter was in 1st grade!
When my son was 3, we met new neighbours whose twins at 18months were going to school for 4 hours everyday with heavy bags. They were shocked we weren’t planning to enroll our son till he was older.
The fear of a child lagging behind lays so heavily on some parents that they don’t realise that children are not built for sitting and learning. They are made for learning through exploration and curiosity. Learning about plants through books versus taking a stroll through a park and observing plantlife will both give you different result.
Parenting mistake no 4: Giving in to societal pressure
This was something I was prepared for since I was one of the last in my circle to become a parent. Society has an opinion on everything you’re doing wrong. Your kid is too thin; your kid is too fat; you’re too lenient with your child; you’re too strict; your child is hyper; your child is too quiet.
Every person I knew told me how important it is to massage your baby. So many new parents hired someone to do that. These ‘masseuses’ are almost always untrained and never gentle with the baby. I’ve heard new born babies screaming on the verge of choking but the massage didn’t stop because everyone said it’s good for the baby. I’ve heard horror stories of dislocated limbs because they were pulled too hard.
I did not fall into that trap. I massaged him myself when he was comfortable and stopped when he wasn’t. He didn’t end up with weak bones or muscles.
You know your baby best. Make your own choices and stand up for them.
Parenting mistake no 5: Empty Threats
This one should be obvious but it took me a while to realise it. Making threats you’re not going to follow through on will make your life more difficult. Children quickly catch on and realise that nothing ever comes out of your threatening, so they stop listening.
We would tell our son that if he didn’t stop jumping on the sofa we wouldn’t take him out with us. Were we willing to leave him alone? Absolutely not. He figured it out pretty soon and replied, “I know you will.”
Parenting mistake no 6: Inconsistent messaging and rigidity
Kids cannot understand complex instructions. If they’re allowed to jump on the bed one day, they will not understand why they’re not allowed to do it when someone is sleeping on it. Or, if they’re allowed unlimited screen time, they won’t understand why some days the time is cut short. Have a plan and be consistent. Talk it over with all caregivers and insist that they stick to it.
But isn’t that too rigid you say? Yes. So you make a list of things you will not compromise on and will only reconsider in exceptional circumstances. For everything else, check in with the child. They might be used to being in bed by 8 everyday, but there’s something special happening tonight. Would you want them to miss out on it? Or maybe let them have an early nap so they can participate in the night.
Like I said, parenting choices are tough and there’s no rule book. Try to do the best you can in your child’s interest and things will turn out fine. For everything else, there’s always therapy!
You can refer to my earlier post on some of the parenting books that had helped me form an idea of the parent I wanted to be. I still struggle with making the right choice everyday, but I’ve learnt to be gentle with myself as well as my child.
Hope the same for you too!