Do you know a “lucky” parent? You know the one — that mom or dad whose kids always do their homework, excel in sports and other activities, have lots of friends, help out around the house without being asked, never talk back, go to bed and get up in the morning without a fight, and even prefer fruits and vegetables over candy? As social creatures, it is our nature to measure ourselves against those around us to see where we succeed and where we fall short. As parents, it’s hard to resist doing these comparisons with our children and other children. It starts really early: “Is your child sleeping through the night? Is he rolling over? Is she talking yet?” As your child grows, there are more areas in which to do these comparisons: athletic ability, academics, social skills, as well as compliance with chores and other tasks. With all this evaluating, it is easy to feel like your luck has run out in the parenting department.
When you are caught up in comparing your family to others, it’s good to remind yourself “I don’t know what goes on inside other people’s families — I do not know their struggles.” Many “lucky” families appear like they have it all together, yet they could be struggling with addiction, mental illness or other diagnoses, divorce/separation, or numerous other challenges faced by millions of people every day. They may not feel as lucky or as “together” as you think.
In truth, there is a small component of luck in parenting. There is always that genetic roll of the dice which influences things like your child’s temperament, personality and possible diagnoses. “Luck” is also subjective: an active child who likes running around and engaging in multiple activities could be a challenge to parents who enjoy more sedate activities, and vice versa. As James Lehman reminds us, “Parents have to learn to parent the child they have. Not the child they wish they had.” If you continue to parent your ideal child, instead of the child you have, you are going to be frustrated when your child doesn’t respond in the way you had hoped. You are going to be more effective as a parent if you honestly assess and accept your child’s strengths, and the areas he or she needs to work on, and move forward from there. Let me be clear: by acceptance, I do not mean that you condone your child’s behavior; instead, you recognize it for what it is rather than pretending it does not exist or minimizing it.
Effective parenting takes a lot of work, and involves the ability to be consistent, structured, disciplined and responsive to your child’s needs. It involves learning and using the effective parenting roles of Teacher/Coach, Problem-Solver and Limit-Setter. Effective parenting also includes creating a culture of accountability in your home, and finding what will work as motivation or consequences for your child.
The truth is, comparing yourself to others isn’t helpful. Parenting isn’t really based on luck — it’s a skill that can be developed and improved through learning and honing your parenting techniques.