If so, how do we measure their performance? If not, what can be done about it?
According to parenting and education experts Laura and Malcolm Gauld, there is no black-and-white answer for what constitutes successful parenting. In fact, the inconvenient truth, they say — at least for kids — is that we live in an age when many parents would much rather focus on how their kids are stacking up, holding up, or moving up, rather than how they themselves are scoring on the parenting scale.
“Many well-intentioned parents believe that the key to helping their children succeed is by managing the issues they [the children] face, but oftentimes the opposite is true,” says Malcolm. “Thinking they can fix their kids’ problems by stepping in and trying to manipulate outcomes serves no one, least of all the kids.”
Authors of the book, “The Biggest Job We’ll Ever Have” and leaders of Hyde Schools, a network of public and private schools known for their approach to family and parent education, the Gaulds remind parents that the prevalent trend of rushing in to rescue has dealt a serious blow to the self-esteem of our nation’s youth.
“If successful parenting is measured by how capable kids are in coping with the obstacles they face in today’s results-driven world or the level of confidence they have after they leave the nest, parents are not earning the grade and, in many cases, failing miserably,” says Laura. “Parents are stepping in ahead of their kids, obliterating anything that dares to get in the way, rendering their kids helpless.”
“We see many parents who know what they’re doing, who want to change, but are so wrapped around their kids they haven’t a clue about how to pull themselves off,” says Malcolm.
The parents of three children, the Gaulds know firsthand how hard it is to break old habits, particularly when parents try to make change without help.
“Getting the right kind of help is key to making the right kind of change,” says Malcolm. “We cannot expect to assess our own progress or critique our efforts objectively if we are serious about shifting old, well-learned patterns.”
Though the Gaulds see many parents working hard to counter these habits, “flying solo” often leads to lessons in futility, where years of aimlessly spinning wheels can garner nothing more than greater levels of anxiety and frustration for both parents and their children.
Additionally, as things start to spiral out of control, parents, bereft of hope, pull the reigns on their children even tighter.
And who can blame them, say the Gaulds. In a culture overly preoccupied with achievement, where competition for jobs, the best schools, and awards is greater than ever, parents are reminded at every turn how hard their children will have to work in order to carve out a life that will sustain them.
“The haves and have nots in our society are usually determined by the successes and failures of each individual,” says Laura. “But never before have parents been more inundated with reminders of how tough it is out in the world.”
As the years of over-managing children’s lives tally up, parents face the unintended result of having robbed their children of the very experiences and tools necessary to succeed in life.
“Teenagers begin to rebel,” says Malcolm. “This typically materializes bearing two opposing outcomes: acting out in reaction to their parents micromanaging their lives; and turning to their parents to solve problems out of fear and a lack of belief in their abilities to find solutions on their own.”
No matter where families fall within this scenario, the Gaulds maintain there is one constant in homes where parents are open to learning about themselves, how they were parented and the attitudes they developed as a result of their childhood experiences.
“We reap what we sow in all we do, including in our parenting,” says Laura. “Parents who are able to step back, take a look at what’s really going on in their own lives are often able to step back into the ring armed with a clearer understanding of how they can be effective mentors to and supporters of their children.”
“It’s not that parents invest in their kids,” continues Malcolm. “It’s the kind of investment we make. Putting the right kind of energy into our investments will free us up to give our kids – and ourselves – what we truly need to be successful.”
How do parents make a shift? The Gaulds offer some first steps:
1. Lead your children by example. What you want for them you must first uncover for yourself. Our own personal growth as adults will be our true legacy to our children – and will outshine all of the successes, talents, or material possessions we earn.
2. Invest in yourself. As Carl Jung said, “Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on children than the unlived lives of their parents.” So, live a little; take some learning risks in front of your child; do something each day for pure joy; and stop riding your child’s coattails — ride your own.
3. Tackle the deep attitudes that hold you back from being YOUR best. You know what they are. And, if you don’t, ask someone you trust, who loves you, and believes in your best.
4. Work on accepting what your parents gave to you, what they tried to give you, and what they were unable to give you. Acceptance and forgiveness liberate us from parenting out of fear.
5. Understand your job as a parent. Like any job, you must know the duties and responsibilities that go along with it. If you don’t know what they are, get help from someone who does. Most of the unproductive issues we get into as parents stem from the conflict between the role we want to play in our child’s life, rather than accepting the role we need to play.
6. Take some time to build family traditions. The big picture of raising children is done with the actions, routines, and practices that make up a lifetime of memories and habits. Often, the value of these actions is seen looking back at one’s upbringing.
7. Know when to ask for help, and then do it.
8. Remember when it comes to parenting: It is hard; It is doable; and It is never too late.
“Parenting is the biggest job we’ll ever have, and it lasts a lifetime,” says Laura. “We all make mistakes, but the true measurement of successful parenting lies in our ability to acknowledge our mistakes and the unproductive attitudes that caused them, forgive ourselves, and step back in with our children ready to give them our best…as many times as it takes.”