These days, we’re bombarded with mixed messages about how to parent “the right way.” It’s easy to buy into advice from the media, relatives, and other parents and start to worry that we’re doing something wrong. We’re often comparing ourselves to others—and feeling judged and criticized by them.
One of the most important ways to clear through all the clutter of advice, guilt, and comparisons to others is to understand what you are and aren’t responsible for when it comes to raising your child.
As a parent coach with EmpoweringParents.com, I worked with many parents who struggled with this question:
“What am I responsible for as a parent?”
I found that most parents instinctively know the answer to this question, but just need someone to validate their instincts amidst all the social media ranting about what parents ought to be doing.
So here goes, the top 10 things you are (and are not) responsible for as a parent.
Don’t get me wrong—it’s good for your kids to be happy overall. But there will be many times, especially when you’re parenting responsibly, that your kids will be furious.
When you set limits or give them a consequence, they may not like it initially. But that’s part of your job description as a parent and head of the household. You do not make decisions based on what your kids will like, tolerate, or be okay with. Instead, you make the decisions that are best for them and your family, then follow through.
In the Total Transformation Program®, James Lehman says you have to run your family like a business. You’re the chief executive officer of your “family business,” and as CEO, you have to learn how to set emotions aside and to parent as objectively as possible.
So forget how guilty you feel. Forget that echo of your sister’s advice in the back of your head. Just remember that you need to do what is best for your family. You can ask for advice, but in the end, you know your family best.
You do not need other adults in your life to tell you that you are doing the right thing. Parenting is not a popularity contest in your family or in your community. Sure, it feels great when other adults, such as your child’s teachers, tell you your child is doing something well. But it’s not necessary in order for you to run your family well.
Your children are not puppets, and you are not a puppeteer. There is no possible way that you can control every move your child makes or everything your child says, especially outside of your home. Children have their own free will and will act on their own accord—and often in self-interest.
For example, it’s important to remind yourself that if your child is not doing her homework, despite your best efforts to motivate her and hold her accountable, that it’s her problem and the poor grade she earns is hers alone.
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The consequence she will get from you is that you will make sure she sets aside time every evening to study. You will be in touch with her teachers more. And you will monitor her homework more thoroughly until she brings her grade up.
We can’t control our kids, but we can influence them by the limits we set and the consequences we give. As James Lehman says, “You can lead a horse to water, and you can’t make him drink—but you can make him thirsty.”
Many times our children will ask us to do something for them that we know they are capable of doing on their own. You are no longer responsible for those things.
For example, your grade-schooler might not make his bed perfectly the first time, but practice (and doing it imperfectly several times) is what he needs to get to the point where he can do it on his own.
I’m not saying to stop preparing breakfast for your child once she’s old enough to pour her own cereal or to never do anything to help your kids out in a pinch. What I am saying is to let your kids struggle sometimes. Try your best to give them increasing levels of responsibility. And don’t type your child’s paper for him because you type faster and it’s getting close to bedtime…that is not striking a balance!
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You’re not a superhero, nor should you strive to be. Rather than focusing on addressing every behavior issue or adhering to a perfect schedule each day, try to hit the important targets and realize that you might have to let some smaller things go each day. We call this picking your battles.
If your child doesn’t get angry with you at least once in a while, you’re not doing your job. Along with this, remember that you are not required to give lengthy explanations of your decisions. “It’s not safe” can be plenty of explanation when your teen asks why he can’t jump off the roof and onto the trampoline. “It’s your responsibility” is enough justification for telling your child it’s homework time. You don’t need to get into all the possible “what-ifs” and “if-thens.”
One of the effective parenting roles we talk about in parent coaching and which James Lehman teaches in The Total Transformation Program® is that of trainer/coach. It is your job to teach your child age-appropriate skills in order to allow them to become more and more independent.
There comes a time when your child needs to learn how to emotionally soothe himself, tie his shoes, write his name, and cope when someone teases him. Over time, he will need to develop more and more advanced skills. He needs to know how to type a paper, say no to drugs, drive a car, and fill out a job application. Indeed, he needs to learn that his level of responsibility will grow throughout his life.
You are responsible for holding your child accountable for his behavior and actions. At the very least, this means setting limits with your child when she behaves inappropriately. For example, when your child puts off her homework, you might turn off the TV and say:
“Watching TV isn’t getting your homework done. Once your homework is done, you can turn the TV back on.”
This could also be as simple as firmly saying:
“We don’t talk that way in this house.”
…and then walking away.
Or, of course, this can mean providing effective consequences for something like having missing homework assignments, such as weekend activities being placed on hold until the work is completed.
Parenting is a bit of a roller coaster ride, and you’re on it whether you like it or not. There will be times when your child is doing well and times when your child is struggling. Remind yourself that the ups and downs are not a reflection of you—it’s just the way the ride goes sometimes.
So, don’t blame yourself when stuff happens. Focus on finding positive ways to cope and look for something new to try to help your child effectively. And don’t be afraid to get support, either through sites like EmpoweringParents.com or local resources.
That’s all you can do sometimes. Parenting is a perpetual balancing act—striving to find that balance between doing too much and doing too little, or giving consequences that are not too harsh but not too soft, either. Parenting can feel like a circus sometimes, and there can be several balancing acts going on at one time. That’s when you have to go back to picking your battles and realizing you are not, nor will you ever be, the perfect parent. You just need to be good enough.
Above all else, remember that your child is unique, and you know him better than anyone else on the planet. You will always get input, no matter how obvious or subtle, from the world around you as to how you should parent your child.
You, though, are the expert on your child and get to make your own decisions about how to parent her in a way that teaches her to be independent and accountable while also being loving and respectful of your child and her needs. When you find yourself at wits’ end, remember the tips here to help you be more objective and remember what you are and aren’t responsible for as a parent.
Sara Bean, M.Ed. is a certified school counselor and former Empowering Parents Parent Coach with over 10 years of experience working with children and families. She is also a proud mom.