Good-enough-granny on the warpath

You should not judge a book by its cover. I haven’t read “Why good parents have bad kids: how to make sure your child grows up right” but the title alone made me jump up and down with rage (good marketing I suppose – I might even be incensed enough to buy it so that I can fume some more).

First of all, the idea that there is such a thing as a ‘good parent’ or a ’bad kid’ smacks of the worst kind of moralism – the reactive moralism that is so prevalent in a society that threw out values fifty years ago and is trying to claw them back through pop-psychology. There is no such thing as a ‘good parent’ in any absolute sense (and I am sorry – your child is just your child whether they are ‘good’ or not). When I was practicing as an educational psychologist parents would often ask me “which is the ‘best school’ in the area?” It doesn’t exist! There are many reputable schools with different strengths – but the fact that you pay a lot of money for a school does not guarantee that it is problem-free. You see they are asking the wrong question. You could more reasonably ask me “which school would be the best fit with my child’s needs and gifts and personality?” And it might not be the same as it was for their sibling.

Parenting is a bit like that – have you never noticed how some kids have a different experience of growing up in the same family? The parents were the same, but the relationship or the ‘fit’ wasn’t. You can do all the ‘right’ things as a parent and it can be completely wrong for a particular child – ironic if your main rule of thumb is to be fair and consistent and treat them all the same! You can be ‘too good’ as a parent – in our more recently westernized society (we are still a bit behind in the colonies here) we are seeing more and more of the ‘helicopter parent syndrome’ – hovering, over-protective parents who try too hard, do too much and generally overcompensate for the scariness of the world around them. To be fair to the author above, maybe this was the point he was about to get to……

But that still doesn’t get him off the hook with granny – because my second major objection is the idea that you as a parent can ‘make sure’ – that you can do anything to guarantee the outcome of your child’s life and behaviour – and it breaks my heart to think that the ‘good parents’, those who do feel that they have tried their best, may imagine that it is all their fault – that maybe they could have done something different and it would all have worked out fine in the end. Every parent has to come to terms with the limitations of parental power – you are not omnipotent! Whatever you do, you don’t get to get everything you want because your child is his or her own person and they get to choose too.

Parenting is actually an extended rite of passage – you raise your kids so that they can leave you (yes, I have offended many of my over-protective friends by that idea.) When our kids were growing up we always told them that when they were 18 they would get the bill and their marching orders. They all took us at our word (apart from paying the bill, of course). We were only mildly put-out when the youngest, always an over-achiever, jumped the gun and wanted to leave at 16. Today we are SO proud of our kids – they are very different from each other, different personalities and talents, but fiercely loyal to each other (as only three sisters can be).What I am most proud of is that they have each pursued their own path in life with purpose and passion – making their decisions with great integrity in the moment. Have they always chosen the things I would have chosen? Maybe not – but then let’s be honest – their father and I have made many decisions that they probably didn’t approve of either – things that affected them quite drastically, like emigrating three times and dragging them away from schools and friends and the secure, familiar things in life. We were the parents – we got to make those choices, for good or ill – now they are all grown-ups and they get to do the same. What I am also proud of (and I don’t know if I can take any credit as a parent for this – you would have to ask them) is that whatever choices they have made – they take responsibility for those choices – they own their mistakes and sort them out themselves without blaming other people. If you can get your kids to adulthood having acquired that kind of ownership of their own lives, it really is as good as it gets – you can’t ask for much more. Whatever life throws at them – they will be okay.

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