What we believe determines how we act. Some good people are bad parents in part because they have unhealthy beliefs about themselves, their children and what it means to be a parent.
Here are the most common damaging beliefs that I encounter in my office.
1. I must always place my child’s needs before my own or those of my partner: Children shouldn’t always be your first priority. There are many times when you should focus more attention on your spouse, your work or yourself. You’ll be a better parent if you take good care of yourself and nurture a loving relationship with your spouse.
2. I am responsible for my child’s happiness: Youngsters have their own personality, and have to figure out what it means to live a life of meaning. Your job is not to entertain and keep your children happy, but rather to guide and nurture. The rest is up to them.
3. I must be the perfect role model: People like me write a great deal about the fact that parents are the most important influence in their children’s lives. That places a great deal of responsibility, and sometimes even a burden on us as parents. Aren’t we ever allowed to make mistakes, watch too much TV, get angry or do something stupid? Stop feeling guilty about being human. Let your kids see the real you, and teach them that our lives are partly defined by how we deal with life’s challenges.
4. I should always want to spend time with my child: Kids are not always pleasant company. You are entitled to spend time with others without feeling as if your children are being ignored. Don’t apologize for these feelings. Your children have lives independent of their parents, as you should have interests separate from them.
5. My child should always like me: You are not being a good parent if your goal is doing what is popular rather than what is right. Kids, like the rest of us, don’t like restrictions, corrections and negative feedback. However, your parental role demands that you do what is best for your children, not what is fashionable or popular. At times, your children will get upset and say that you don’t understand their feelings or that they are angry at you. Try to understand their perspective, but don’t waiver from enforcing reasonable rules and limits.
6. How my child turns out depends upon me: The three biggest factors influencing your child are genetic history, environment and parents. You are important to your child but you cannot control the outcome of your child’s life. Accept the reality that your child may live a life that is very different from what you want.
Dr. Gregory Ramey is a child psychologist at Dayton Children’s Hospital.