Parenting is arguably the most important job in the world. To shape the lives of the next generation of adults is a huge responsibility and something most people in our society take on willingly.
At the same time, there is no formal training or certification required in order to become a parent and there are many poor parenting examples out there.
I meet people every day who have come out of the most horrendous childhood environments – so bad it makes a person wonder how they are able to function at all. These same people now have children of their own and are trying desperately not to make the same mistakes their parents made.
Unfortunately, although they have obvious examples of what they don’t want to do as parents, they may have very little idea about what constitutes successful adaptive parenting. Without having experienced it first hand, how could they know what to do?
Parenting is a set of skills most of us learn from the experience of our own childhood or from observing other parents in action around us – but in many cases, these observable examples are not good ones.
In extremely bad situations, the negative factors are sometimes obvious and can include alcoholism, drug abuse, unstable mental illness, poverty, inadequate housing and lack of family or community support. These are not usually independent of one another and often occur in combination. Also, some of them – like substance abuse and mental illness – are partly genetic and likely to be passed on to the next generation.
Less obvious are reasons for why parenting is so bad in homes that seem to have every advantage. Economically privileged families with two parents, professional jobs, accessible grandparents and nice homes—and still no idea of adequate parenting.
Popular movies and television shows don’t help as the family lives portrayed are usually very dysfunctional. Bizarre dysfunction in these shows is idealized sometimes for comedic effect with no real consequences and observers with no better examples may be misled into thinking such parenting is common-place, acceptable and effective.
Common parenting problems include inability to set limits or lack of discipline. These can result from the parents’ lack of involvement, unavailability or trying too hard to keep children happy and avoid conflict. Effective parenting requires the physical presence of a parent as well as emotional and intellectual involvement.
Parents who are too busy, not interested, away all the time, depressed or using substances cannot do an adequate job.
Another common problem in today’s independent age is the tendency for all members of the family to spend all their time in separate rooms each doing their own thing and not interacting.
Children often have their own bedrooms with individual computers, telephones and video games. Busy or overwhelmed parents may think this is a good situation at first as it means less hassle and less work, but in the long run there is also no chance to build relationships, no sense of family or responsibility to do anything other than amuse oneself. Once this pattern is established, any parental requests will be viewed as unwelcome interruptions.
Among impoverished families, many people may be living in crowded quarters with little privacy and few distractions. In these conditions everyone becomes irritable due to crowding and stress.
Some parents cope with a lack of time or interest by keeping their children very busy with activities. This can give the appearance of involvement while at the same time relegating the parent to the roles of observer and chauffeur. Coaching, mentoring, guidance and limits are set by someone else for a fee. Again, in these instances, what is lacking is the development of relationship between parent and child.
Many other examples exist, but what is particularly striking is that often parents have no idea anything is amiss until it is too late. With no positive examples to compare to, it is easy to see only the areas they have improved on from their own childhood and miss the completely new set of mistakes being made.
Unfortunately, failures in parenting contribute directly to many of the big problems we face as a community and society - bullying, delinquency, drug abuse, crime, violence, child or spousal abuse and more.
Policing, prisons and treatment programs can never deal with these problems unless we somehow start preventing them at their source and doing a better job of providing for our children both materially and emotionally.