In my opinion, parents in our society are subjected to way too much blame and judgment.
As an avid sports fan, I frequently listen to my local sports talk radio program on my way into work. With the baseball playoffs starting (and my beloved Red Sox woefully long out of the picture!), much of the program consisted of the hosts speaking with each other and with callers about different teams and their prospects for winning a title, based on the roster, pitching, injuries, and management. At one point, one of the hosts stated, “Being a manager of a baseball team has to be one of the hardest jobs out there. When your team does well, you get too little credit, and when your team stinks, you get too much of the blame.”
As I continued my drive to work, I started thinking about how parenting is a lot like that. If your child does well and is successful by society’s standards, people generally recognize the individual achievement and talk about how intelligent, artistic or athletic your child is. People usually don’t say, “Wow, your mom did really well reading to you and helping you with your homework,” or “Your dad sacrificed so much to practice individually with you at home, and then drive you to your team practice every day.” The comments are more geared to the child: “You are so smart,” or “You must practice really hard!” Ironically, if your child does not conform to social standards of success, then the parents are automatically to blame: “You should make him do his homework” (The message: it’s your fault), “Why isn’t she keeping up with the rest of the team — you should do drills with her at home” (again, people act like it’s your fault), or even “Your kid lies/steals/gets in trouble with the law/uses drugs or alcohol/fill-in-the-blank?!?!” (It’s most DEFINITELY your fault!)
How is a parent to deal with all this blaming and judgment? I find it’s helpful to keep in mind the concept of the “good enough” parent that James Lehman talks about. The “good enough” parent is not perfect, or some kind of super-parent. The good enough parent is putting in their best effort to parent their child. The good enough parent is providing for their child’s needs, which is different from giving their child everything he or she desires. The good enough parent loves and does not abuse their child. The good enough parent tries to teach their child concepts like responsibility, accountability and consequences and rewards. The good enough parent sometimes makes mistakes, but keeps trying.
Here’s another key point: as a good enough parent, you have the responsibility to try and teach your child, and it is your child’s responsibility to learn — and hopefully, make appropriate choices. If we go back to the baseball example, on a professional team, players practice to improve their skills, whether that be hitting fastballs, pitching curveballs, stealing bases or catching grounders. If players don’t show up to scheduled practices or spend the whole practice complaining about how stupid it is, their skills are not likely to improve, and we can’t blame the manager or coaches when they strike out. Likewise, if your child is struggling in school, you might schedule some homework time each day with a reward if your child participates. If your child refuses to do the homework, it is likewise unreasonable for others to blame you if your child fails the test.
It’s my hope that instead of blaming each other or judging others’ choices, we can recognize that we are all doing our best to be “good enough,” even when that falls short of perfect.