What Makes a Good Parent?

We all know that parenting is not for the faint of heart. Parenting is a skill developed over time and is influenced by many, many factors. We know families have tough days and we know to take people’s perfect Instagram feeds with a grain of salt. But whether you have kids, are planning to, or are watching from the sidelines, we all have our opinions on what good parenting looks like; and sadly, we are prone to judge.

We look at kids and how they behave, and we assume it’s because of parenting. We may witness a child have a tough moment and depending on how their parent responds, we judge if they handled it well or not. We might even investigate our own childhoods and determine what parental traits are worth keeping and which ones get the boot. But what makes a good parent, really?

At Child(ish) Advice, we believe that all parents are trying the best they can based on their own personal situation. The thing is that the definition of good parenting swings widely in our society.

A parental action may be frowned upon by some (“Can’t believe you’re going to let them cry and give up like that”), while others might give applause (“That’s great you’re letting them advocate for themselves and figure out their own limits”). Just from watching The Parent Test, we already see 12 different parenting styles doing 12 different approaches to achieve the same goal.

And what is the goal exactly?
To provide a nurturing and safe environment for our kids so they may grow into capable and kind humans.

The Characteristics of Good Parenting

Providing the essentials. Aside from requiring the basic survival needs (food, clothing, shelter), kids need the following to develop and grow:

  • Love so that we may care for them and attend to their needs
  • Emotional security to build trust
  • Connection and validation to feel seen, heard, and understood
  • Responsibilities to establish boundaries, expectations, and autonomy
  • Chances to learn, play, and explore

Follows Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to a tee. Everything else is more of a guideline and personal preference, ranging from sleeping arrangements or screen time limits.

No time like quality time.  Any time where you and your child have each other’s positive attention would be considered quality time.

Playing with your kiddo or reading them a book? Quality time.
Asking how their day was and they say more than “good”? Quality time.
Friendly banter, a good laugh, or a meaningful conversation? Again, quality time.

Dr. Becky Kennedy’s book Good Inside refers to this as building connection capital, which helps when parents need cooperation from their kids. Research has shown that these bonding moments help kids develop emotional security, allowing them to feel safe, confident, and important. That emotional trust between parent and child can also give way to positive behaviors like cooperation and adaptability.

Being a guide. Awhile back, I had a yoga instructor say in the beginning of class that he didn’t want to be looked at as an instructor, but more as a guide during our yoga journey. As cheesy as that sounded, it made sense. He would lead us through a sequence, offer different poses to challenge or modify us, but never told us it was absolute. Parenting is similar. We provide guidance to our children through listening to their thoughts and ideas, offer support and encouragement, present opportunities for creativity and independence, and assure them that we are safe and reliable. By doing so, we allow our kids to figure out who they are and what they will be; not what we want them to be.

Is a child’s behavior a true reflection of their parents?

Have you ever been to a kid event and found that there’s always that one child you prefer your kid not play with? Why? Because their actions are a bit of a turn off; not aligned with the behavior you would want for your child. We might immediately assume the parents are to blame for it. But is that a fair assessment on whether the “problem” child has good parents or not?

I recently saw a TikTok saying that it’s the primary duty of parents to make their child socially desirable. The idea is that you would want your kid to appropriately interact with other children, engaging them in play, and thus, their parents would treat your child in kind. This positive trait will allow your child to socialize with others, providing opportunity, self-regard, and security as they grow. If they are perceived as horrible little monsters, brats, or other negative terms, they may face rejection from their peers and, in turn, other parents and adults. Yeah, no pressure on the parents whatsoever.

With that in mind, it makes sense why people would praise a child’s strengths, or blame their faults, on their parents. It would also explain why parents put so much pressure on themselves (or their kid) to get it right. For the record, research has proven that multiple factors go into childhood development from peer interactions to their environment, not just parenting.

But because this notion of “good kid, good parent; bad kid, bad parent” can be so engrained in our thought pattern, we freak out when our own children don’t behave in public (like throwing a tantrum at the grocery store) or don’t meet/exceed the status quo (like getting a bad grade in school). We don’t want to look like bad parents, so we attempt to parent based on our own experience and expectations with little to no regard for our kid’s wishes. When we do this, we not only stifle their personal growth and sense of self, but indirectly say that our love is conditional. We can strain the relationship, which can lead to a child’s resentment, push back, and defiant behavior over time. Lots of past experience here to back that up…

It’s also worth mentioning that in Good Inside, Dr. Becky says that a child’s behavior is a symptom, not a personality trait. In most cases, a child displaying negative or destructive behavior is most likely lacking in the essentials listed previously (connection, security, guidance, etc). Luckily, this can be remedied by those essentials as well.

Is there such thing as a bad parent?

Perhaps we define being a good parent by doing the opposite of what we know is bad. We would be lying if said we didn’t know what bad parenting looks like. We hear about the worst ones on the news. Aside from those extremes, other “bad parent” characteristics include:

  • Quiet verbal abuse (ignoring, stonewalling, contempt/derision, gaslighting, hypercriticism, lack of praise/support), resulting in self-criticism and stunted emotional development
  • Favoritism between children, leading to rivalry and resentment
  • Limiting your child’s autonomous wishes
  • Overparenting or smothering your child
  • Not trusting your child to make good decisions, have good judgement, or to learn from their mistakes
  • Always prioritizing your needs ahead of your child’s, resulting in a lack of emotional safety
  • Demanding perfection from your child

We may have experienced one or more of these from our parents (I know I have) which is why it’s up to us to break the cycle, working on ourselves so we don’t pass our triggers or trauma to our kids.

The Honest Truth

Parenting is hard work. It’s an active process that requires our attention and care, as well as understanding ourselves and what we need to be a good parent. We’re not going to get it 100% of the time because our children are their own beings, equipped with their own temperament, ideas, and passions. As long as we try (and try often) to make our kids emotionally whole, give them the ability to form healthy relationships, and provide them with the tools to navigate the world confidently, then we are doing a great job. 

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