The Experimental Parent

Most everyone that is a parent wants to be a “good” parent.  Well, what in the hell does that even mean and who gets to decide?  In my years working with youth and families, I have definitely seen some bad parenting, but mostly, I’ve experienced parents doing their best and not always getting the results they want.  That’s the thing about parenting: if all the variables could be controlled, then you could very well control the outcome.  However, parenting involves A LOT of different people (usually more than you would like) and thus, A LOT of different variables.

There is so much information out in the world about parenting and child development.  I love gaining knowledge about development through research, but I think sometimes this amazing body of knowledge tends to make parents lose their heads a bit.  If it isn’t a new recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics, its 30 year-old advice from your mother-in-law: “Well, I did X, Y, or Z and my kids turned out fine.”  After a time of taking in all of this research and unsolicited advice, a parent could start to feel like they are just the absolute worst at raising their children.

It is so easy to become discouraged when you are parenting, at all stages of development.  It seems that once you get the hang of a stage, the next one pops up out of nowhere with a whole new set of challenges to master.  And it doesn’t really matter if you have had numerous children or not.  Each child will be different so techniques that ended up working phenomenally with your first, may crash and burn with your third.

What is a parent to do when faced with that feeling of, “good grief I suck at this”?  In the moment, just try to be nice to yourself.  I would never tell another parent that they suck so why am I saying it to myself?  Over the long run, I think we should all stop trying to be “good” parents.  When I hear the words “good parent” it always conjures up images of the apron-ed mother baking cookies with her three well-dressed, evenly spaced children all reading quietly or making “I love Mommy” art at the designated art table in the play room.  This is odd because my ideal parenting and family experience absolutely does NOT look like that.  I fully rebel against the idea of the “good” parent and instead strive to be an Experimental Parent.

“Good” tends to be black and white, but “experimental” cannot be black and white.  If you go at something in an experimental manner, you do not know what the outcome will be.  You may have an expected or desired outcome, but by nature of experimentation, there is an understanding that you may get completely unexpected results.  Also, experimental results are not good or bad, they are simply results.  This mindset can certainly help parents to be easier on themselves and their children.  By adopting this approach, we, as parents, can take information that we find to be worthy of our attention and give it the ‘ol college try without feeling like a failure if things don’t work out.

Certainly, there will always be days that are not the best and that feeling of self-doubt begins to creep in.  This is when you lean on your support system and let them build you back up.  If you are going the experimental parent route, be clear with those that are involved with you on this parenting journey (i.e. grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends with children) what that means for you and that you need a support system that doesn’t place value judgements on your parenting decisions.  Unless you are being abusive, their roles are to support and empower you as a parent, not to tell you what you should and should not be doing.

Parenting is something to be enjoyed and something to bring fullness to your life.  Take pleasure in the lessons you learn from your experiments and learn to see your “failures” as an invitation to try something new.

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