National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Perfect Parenting? Bah!

Family Matters – Childrearing

BY Dr. Ray Guarendi

February 3-9, 2008 Issue | Posted 1/29/08 at 1:17 PM


I guess I read too much. I’m always worried that I’m going to do something wrong as a parent — something that will cause my children serious emotional problems later on in their lives.

Your question underscores what may be the most haunting fear among good parents today: the fear of making a childrearing “mistake” that will lay the groundwork for psychological damage.

What’s more tormenting is that you can’t know when or where the damage is going to surface because it’s buried deep within a youngster’s psyche, festering for years until rearing its ugly head. And when it does, you have to wonder helplessly what you “did wrong.”

Seventeen years from now, is your daughter going to be sitting in the middle of some encounter group, along with seven other ex-embezzling parolees — she’s their leader — talking about you and the turning point in her life?

“I’ve never shared this with anyone before. I was barely 5 years old. My mother was screaming my full name over and over from the garage, along with words I couldn’t understand. Then she started throwing my Care Bears under the truck tires, driving back and forth over it, laughing hideously and promising that she’d never buy me anything ever again if I couldn’t keep it where people wouldn’t trip over it. I was never the same after that.”

How can you possibly parent, much less enjoy it, under such a black cloud? Under the constant fear that if you miscalculate, misjudge, lose your cool or make any other human miscue, you run the risk of setting into motion an unseen chain of emotional events that will culminate in a social misfit.

Charity hates to share with her brother. If you maker her do so, will she grow up hating men? The only way to get Newton to do his math homework is to require he finish it immediately after school before he goes outside to play. He hates this rule and fights it. Is he eventually going to be so turned off towards numbers that he’ll become a sixth-grade dropout?

Day-to-day parenthood requires so many decisions and judgments that you could keep yourself in perpetual turmoil second-guessing every move you make.

The experts have done a lot to scare parents.

I saw a “family specialist” on national television tell parents that the absolute worst thing they could do to their children — it would lead to all manner of addictions and psychological imbalance — was to be inconsistent. What parent isn’t? In fact, what is the defining characteristic of human beings? Inconsistency.

There is not one of us who is even close to consistent in parenting or anything else. We may strive for that goal, but we’ll never get there. And now we’ve just been told that because we are what we are, we’ll ruin our kids! One parent said to me, “Reading all this stuff makes me feel like the worst thing for a child is a parent.”

Parents must allow themselves to be human. Good parenting is a process of learning from good and bad moves alike. You’ll make plenty of poor decisions. You’ll say things you shouldn’t. You’ll overreact.

Two other realities make it likely that, in sum total, you will make more mistakes than your parents did, even if you’re a better parent. The first is: Childhoods are getting shorter. Nine-year-olds now face situations that, two generations ago, kids didn’t have to reckon with till they were 15.

The world is fast becoming a tricky, seductive place. If it’s harder for a child to grow up, it will be harder for a parent to grow up with her. More mistakes will be made along the way.

The second reality is that, while childhoods are getting shorter, parenthoods are getting longer. In the past generations, after 18 years or so, the kids left to try life on their own. Nowadays, 26 or 27 years after birth, they’re still hanging around. They might leave for a couple of years just to tease you, but soon they’re back — just as needy and demanding as ever.

Parenthood is not for the faint of heart. It’s as demanding as it is rewarding. In the end, the whole picture is what counts. And for most of us, the good moves far outnumber the bad.

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