Don’t be an Arrogant Parent

One of the most startling and unpleasant discoveries I made on becoming a parent is how many parents indulge in flattering themselves that everything good about their children is because of their parenting prowess.  If their kid is well behaved it’s because they don’t “let” their kids misbehave.  If their child is smart it’s because they’ve been reading to their kid since birth and played intelligent music for them and didn’t let them watch any poisonous television.  If their kids eat well it’s because they wouldn’t “let” their kids be picky.

It became immediately apparent to me as a new mom that what was troublesome about my child was troublesome because I wasn’t parenting him well and that all his amazing qualities were due to my good parenting.  Or, at least, that’s what other parents constantly implied.  It struck me that many parents I met had what I almost think of as a god-complex; that it is by the grace of their own hands that their children are good or bad, smart or dumb, sweet or mean, sinners or saints, well adjusted or a psychological mess.  All the recriminations of other people’s parenting styles and the self congratulatory comments on their own methods made me feel like I was sucked down a worm hole of unreality.

There are so many things that influence a human being’s development that I think it ridiculous for parents to believe that they raise their children in a bubble in which the only influence is themselves and that their methods, if they work on their own children, will work on all children universally.  It ignores the fact that children are as much individuals as adults.

Other influences on a child’s development:

Their own personality.

Their individual temperament.

The environment they are raised in.

How that environment works with the child’s personality and temperament.

Their physiognomy (brain function, neurological wiring, body function)

Other people.

Sibling dynamics or the effect of being an only child.

Culture.  The world outside.

Just because you made a baby doesn’t mean you are automatically a great parent and equipped to handle the challenge of parenting.  I know that I am ill-equipped for this challenge and I do the best that I can but  being a mother doesn’t make me some kind of god of wisdom.  Some women start off with temperaments better suited to dealing with the constant needs of children and others have to adapt to it more.  Just because you are doing well with your own child/children in no way means that you are capable of parenting all children well.  Just because you’ve found methods that work well for your own kids doesn’t mean you know anything about parenting other people’s kids.

Just because your kids seem well adjusted and happy now (and well behaved and good eaters and not overweight and completely mentally healthy…) doesn’t guarantee that they will continue to be so.  The totally well behaved 7 year old may turn into a pregnant substance abusing 15 year old.  There is no guarantee that you are raising a prodigy just because your kid is smart at 11 years old.

Arrogant parents do a great disservice to other parents, especially ones seeking advice or help.  The arrogant parent will give absolute advice and let it be known to you that if you try their advice and fail it’s because you failed at carrying it out.  This is an awful way to set up new parents.  I know, because I was there so many times and it turns out my kid is, as I knew he was from the beginning, not the least bit usual and doesn’t respond in any of the expected ways other parents implied he should and I spent so much time thinking that my kid was struggling because I was a shitty parent.  I know better now.  I realize that anyone reading this blog on a regular basis knows that periodically I write an “I suck at parenting” post.  These posts are inevitable because I am NOT arrogant.  I question myself constantly.  I ask myself “what am I not doing for Max?” and “Why is this method not working?” and “What shortcoming of my own is resulting in all of us banging our heads against the wall?” and asking these questions of myself is an important part of my parenting process.  Raising an unusual kid means that I never get to rest on my laurels (mostly because I don’t have any) or be smug about my parenting prowess.  My kid has special needs and they don’t allow me to rest for a second as a parent.  I have come to understand that part of parenting a special needs kid is to let off steam from time to time.  So I do.  Sometimes I need to thrash myself to get it out of my system.  Any regular readers also know that I come to the same conclusion over and over again: I am the best person I know to be parenting Max.  There are many “better” parents out there but I don’t know any in my acquaintance who could handle my son’s challenges better than I am doing.

What makes a good parent?  Obviously opinions on this vary wildly.  I don’t think any parenting method is inherently better or worse than any other (barring abusive parenting, obviously).  I don’t believe that my parenting methods are better than yours.  In fact, I’m sure they’re not.  In the beginning I might have looked at your kids and judged your parenting based on their behavior but that was a long time ago when I followed everyone else’s cues.  I know better now.  I know that how your child behaves is not necessarily a direct result of your parenting ineptitude or greatness.  It might be, but that’s not something I can know unless I know you very very well.  Even then, it’s not something I can be sure I know because I don’t parent your child.

What makes a good parent, in my opinion, is a parent who chooses their parenting methods based on who their child is as an individual.  A good parent will recognize when the boundaries and ideals they’ve set aren’t working well for their child and will try different methods and set different boundaries.  A good parent will not flog their child with ideals they think they SHOULD be following and blame the kid when it doesn’t work.  A good parent will recognize that if their own methods are working well it’s because they’re using methods appropriate for their child but if a sibling comes along and doesn’t fit the same mold, a good parent will adjust.  A good parent, like a good spouse, is flexible and evolves and seeks to make a life appropriate for the individuals in their family and not try to fit their family into some general ideal of family life.   A good parent doesn’t view parenting as a power struggle or as an autonomy in which your child must be made to be the person you want them to be.  A good parent sees their child’s strengths and builds on them.  A good parent sees their child’s challenges and stretches to meet them, to find the best way to help their child through them.

Arrogant parents give dangerous advice because they fail to acknowledge that what worked for them with their own kids might be disastrous with a different kid.  I keep this very much in mind when I find myself advising anyone on parenting, which, I don’t often do in the first place.  If asked my opinion I will tell another parent what has worked so far for Max and I try to emphasize that my methods may be worth trying in their own family but their kids aren’t Max and so it may not be as effective for their kids.  Parents need each other’s support and I think it’s truly valuable to discuss parenting methods with each other to get new ideas and to help us get through parenting challenges.  However, it is important that all parents acknowledge that kids are individuals and there is no one method that will work for all kids and for most of us there is no one method that will work for one child and that our best bet is to put together a unique set of boundaries, rules, routines, consequences, and rewards that suit our wonderfully different children.

As a parent of an almost-eleven year old, my best advice to new parents is:

Trust your gut over everyone else’s advice.

Have some humility.

 

19 Replies to “Don’t be an Arrogant Parent”

  1. Thank you,

    You didn’t say anything that I don’t already know in my heart but this post may just be my lifeline in a few months when I need someone outside of my own head to talk sense. Just when I will be dealing with newborn challenges, has it ever been mentioned I am not the clucky baby type either, I will probably also be dealing with a plethora of “well meaning advice” from all sides.

    I suspect the art of taking a deep breath and saying “I can see how that would have worked in your family” just might save some of my sanity.

    Kind Regards
    Belinda

  2. Belinda! I was just thinking the other day that once again it’s been way too long since I’ve checked in on your blog- am I to understand that you are expecting?! (I will obviously go check your blog out when I’m done working to see if you’ve written about it there!) If you are – congratulations! Yes, you will be the recipient of MUCHO advice and all of it will be well meaning. You just trust yourself and gather up the tips and advice and sort through it all in your own time and use what sounds like it’s worth trying and discard all the rest.

  3. Thanks!

    Yes, we’re expecting.. hasn’t come out on the blog yet and is probably one of the reasons I haven’t been writing as I haven’t sorted my head around how I want to handle the associated privacy issues. Biology willing I am due to become a mum in January.

    Kind Regards
    Belinda

  4. I do hope biology is willing and so I send out lots of warm and healthy and good thoughts to you! January is the best month of the year to be born. Haha (I’m biased since that’s the month I was born in). Obviously I love it because it’s winter here for us but that’s summer for you. I did hop over to your blog a couple of hours ago to catch up but noticed no mention (I didn’t leave any comments this time). Mum’s the word over there with me until you make it public.

  5. now that I have 3 children (and was one of three children myself), I strongly believe in the whole “nature” concept. Kid’s come out of the womb with a personality and temperament already ingrained. Obviously, some serious childhood trauma and abuse can change those – but really there isn’t much I can do as a parent to change my children’s temperament. Those genetics are a powerful force!!!

  6. I think our society sometimes forgets the function of parenting- it’s not about dumping you neurosis or dreams on your kids, or saddling them with materialism, perfectionism, or guilt. It’s about raising respectful, law-abiding citizens, who can take care of themselves and be a functioning part of society.
    That’s it.

    Hopefully they will be happy, healthy, keep a job, take care of you when you’re old, etc. Do you think parents in sub-Saharan Africa, Afghanistan, or South America debate vacuous themes about how awesome they are as parents? I think people need a shot of common sense prior to becoming a parent. Just because you have the “equipment” to breed doesn’t mean you should do it. Kid’s are not predetermined to be super athletes, wall street barons, or participate on dancing with the stars, no matter how much you spend, devote, or train them. I wish people would just wake up and smell the coffee. Parenting is rewarding and tedious and all things in between. The people who feel the need to over-compensate usually haven’t grown up themselves.

    Phew! I’ve been dying to say THAT for a while!

  7. It’s good to get these things off your chest- well said Chelsea!

    Karmyn- being one of three siblings myself I have seen this too- I would eat almost anything my parents put in front of me, even if I didn’t really like them. I was easily strong armed and I wasn’t a very picky eater to begin with. My sister, on the other hand, was very fussy and no power on earth could force her to eat raisins or pumpkin pie or any of the other things she didn’t like. Our temperaments are all very different. Raised by the same parents but three COMPLETELY different views of the world and ways of dealing with things.

  8. If it was left up to my parenting my kids might be scatterbrained with really short attention spans and not need to venture out of the house much. Fortunately they were each born their own person and we have only a little bit to do with how they “turn out” overall. I love seeing how different they are from me at times and am usually happy about that! I had nothing to do with it. Like this post a lot and agree that good kids are not that way because of their parents.

    1. Amy- I think, from all I know of you, that you’re doing exactly what parents are supposed to do for their kids- you guide them every day in the best way you know how and you give them the support and the love and encouragement they need to become who they’re supposed to become. That’s what all of us need to be doing and the rest is up to the kids themselves. I can’t believe I still haven’t met you in person. We need to remedy that!

  9. This made me tear up a slight bit. My parents are almost as arrogant as they come. If I try something and realize that it’s not for me I’m a failure, I’m a despicable child, and I don’t deserve to live in their home anymore. I am not granted praise for the fact that I’ve tried and have learned I should be doing something else with my time that I enjoy (taking the experiences I’ve had with me).

    I wish my parents could see the way an open minded person does, that their child like you said is an individual. I guess that’s the problem, because I feel and know that I am an individual, therefore I act upon everything to my individual needs and interests (this is a problem to them, because I should be like everybody else). When I was young, I found a career I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing and for the last few years, I’ve given that up in order to do what they want me to do. I’ve been very miserable and unhappy and I think I’m about to lose their support, literally, and now.

    1. I don’t know your real situation so I have no idea what losing their support means (emotionally – financially- both?) but it sounds like you’re no longer a child and have the capacity to make decisions for yourself. It’s a bummer that your parents have such a narrow idea of what you should be doing and I’m sorry to hear that they have not been supportive of you doing the things you want to be doing. My parents were hardly supportive of my dreams and I certainly had no monetary support from them (I left home at 17) but I have always pursued my own course anyway. Now that I’m 42 my parents believe in me a lot more than they did when I was in my teens and early 20’s. I hope that you find a way out of the unhappy situation you’re in – with or without your parents support. It’s your life you’re living, not theirs. Best of luck to you and thank you for reading my blog!

  10. As a highly advance child for my age , my parents continually nurture me as an infant. Which I choose to uprise and tend to disagree on their morals and beliefs. I am 16 for future references. I try to speak normally ,but then find my self assaulted with yelling and arrogance. Parents these days think they know everything about a child’s life and think they have it stress free and easy. I am one to believe in science and modern psychology , which my father finds it as theory bullsh*t. I find myself fighting with my parents a lot because I establish my own morals and guidelines of what I think is right and wrong. I based my beliefs and moral code of general laws. It’s not like in going around doing drugs and killing people and raping females. A lot of children get punished for talking back. What is talking back. From it used to being a witty or snide remark , it is now just simply not agreeing or stating your opinion. If you’re reading this as a parent. Talk to your kid ask them what YOU’RE doing wrong and how you can improve. Don’t Immediately go on that you have a higher stand on life than your child and that you can’t be wrong because you’re the parent. Don’t label yourself as the alpha of the home. See all of yourselves as individuals. I’m not saying on letting an 8 year old run around with knives. Once your child knows and can understand his or hers beliefs and morals let them discover themselves

    1. I have never thought I had all the answers and in our house my son gets to voice his thoughts, his opinions, and think differently that me or my husband. When it comes to his safety and general rules – he has to comply but he can ask why and I give him real answers – not just “because I said so”. I’m sorry that you’ve had such a different experience with your own parents.

      1. Hi there,

        I am a medical student. From what I’ve read you seem like an excellent parent. I myself am not a parent but hope to be in about 10 years time. I have read the peer-reviewed research and books by experts in the field and it matches what you say about seeing the child as an individual and not some “brat” who needs to obey.

        Have you ever spanked? I know to be a controversial issue that brings out vitriol on both sides but I believe it to be inhumane and thus against the values that you have specified and to which I agree – respect and dignity for the child. The sad fact is we do not really view children as human beings even if we claim to love them – we have been conditioned to believe they are inherently bad and need correcting and we do so through unloving behaviour which we justify with old clichés such as “children are naughty”, “they should be seen and not heard” and “my parents did this and I turned out fine”. You hear all the time about how supposedly “kids these days” are disrespectful to elders etc. and that they need to punished. I disagree – I believe children to be no more or less well-behaved since the beginning of time. This ignorant and prejudiced view of children saying goes back to Socrates! (Google it if you have time) We just give ourselves a rosy view of childhood and our parents because we do not want to acknowledge the pain and that our parents mistreated us when we needed love the most. It is all about denying the truth that derives from distorted self reflection and cognitive dissonance.

        Material and external qualities do not necessarily mean a good upbringing that should be repeated in every way. I will admit that even though I am in medical school and have a sibling who is a doctor that my parents were not perfect and nor was I. I love them but I do not respect the fact that I was not treated as a human being when I needed help and guidance because I could not control my emotions. I do not sincerely believe that misbehaviour is inherent – I believe it to be a manifestation of needs, both emotional and physical, that need to be addressed and not some move concocted out of malice – many parents fail to recognise this and resort to violence in cases of temper tantrums, which are simply 2 year olds yearning to be more independent and developing a deeper sense of self, coinciding si the inability to handle new feelings.

        Even if you disagree with me, your article really touched me. I really wish more parents were like you and would research and not make assumptions – something that you have discovered and reaped the benefits of. I commend you.

        1. I used to say that I reserve the right to spank my child if ever feel it necessary – but I have never discovered a situation in which I could honestly say it was necessary and have, consequently, never spanked him. Though I do not equate spanking necessarily with child abuse (it really depends on many factors whether it crosses a line into abuse, in my opinion) I don’t actually think there is ever any benefit to spanking a child. I had a very difficult time in my son’s toddler years – he was an incredibly challenging tot – and I lost control frequently and yelled at him in frustration which never did any good to either of us. If yelling at a child won’t change behavior (it won’t) then how could hitting them be effective? I can’t speak for anyone else’s children and I have learned not to stand in judgement of other parents for the most part because i can’t know what their kids are like or what their challenges as parents are. And that’s part of what I mean by not being an arrogant parent.

          What really helped ME to stop yelling at my toddler was getting more support and help for MYSELF. Then I learned to ignore how other people think I should parent and paid attention to what actually works for MY child. Discipline and consequences have been largely ineffective as a means of getting my son to improve his behavior. Treating him like an equal but less mature human being has been the most effective. He wants reasons for why he should behave a certain way. Instead of telling him “because I said so” I give him real answers like “because you’ll get yourself hurt if you keep walking into the street without looking both ways” or “because if you behave in that way you are less likely to get what you want”. He responds really well to being given honest answers to why he should pay attention to certain conventions of behavior.

          I appreciate your thoughtful comment and wish you all the best when you become a parent yourself!

          1. Thank you for your reply. When you say treating a child as a less mature equal I think you pretty much hit the nail on the head.

            Children need guiding and support, not admonishment and humiliation. We may think that children may know less or more than we think they do so it’s always up to us to guide them through meaningful explanations as you have. I always thought it effective when I was explained stuff about anything. Unfortunately my parents failed to explain on a number of occasions when it came to misbehaviour – if they did I wouldn’t have such trouble – honestly. Some parents claim that when they explained and their kids disobeyed it is quite possible that the tone in which they did it was not on – perhaps in a tone that you not would dare use with an adult. Perhaps they didn’t explain in detail – often this comes about as ‘don’t do that it’s bad’ (which is not a good explanation, it has no reason) or, as you have mentioned, ‘because I said so’.

            You are in the right – the professional bodies who have conducted painstaking work in this area for decades say so – this is reflected in their policies – none of the reputed pediatrics and child health bodies advocate the flawed, humiliating practices that are so commonly accepted and practiced today. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise – they are exhorting unsubstantiated claims that have not proven to be effective in child rearing.

            Your son is going to grow up to be a truly respectful contributor to society because he has been taught it by such a responsible parent as yourself – a true role model.

  11. I find parents of newborns are more arrogant than others. My BIL has been a parent for a few weeks hos baby is still in hospital and they visit him for two hours a day because he’s ill. My BIL started spouting off how calm focused brilliant he and his wife are compared to other parents in the ward. Ignoring the fact they have been getting a full nights rest every night and the nurses do most of the work feeding, bathing etc he seems to think its his amazing skills that has resulted in his baby crying less than others.

    He compared himself to when i had a child 15 years ago and stated my bany cried alot because i was stressed out, tired etc basically the conversation was shaming other parents and me because tje babies cry more than his

    I reminded him that he has not spent one full night with his kid yet and all newborns have soft cries its when they gain weight and learn to open up their lungs when the real crying begins and it has nothing to do with how calm you are.

    Every new parent i have known has done the same thing, shamed me and other parents comparing themselves and obviously judging themselves as super parents before the kid is even a month old.

    I had friends who did this and acted like they were perfect judged me to no end when that baby started crawling they let her pick up cigarette butts and put it in her mouth, they only bathed her once a week and everytime i went over there the parents were zombies and it was up to me to bath their kid and clean up the cigarette butts on the floor. My friend started calling her baby a bi#_% everytime she cried.

    Lets just say they are ex friends. I told them you just wait a few weeks / months then you’ll know all about it. Im waiting for my BIL to bring home his baby and in a few weeks / months lets see how calm, focused clear headed they both are then.

    In the mean time im pissed im sick of being judged because i had a fussy baby who cried alot i was and still am a good mom i didnt do any of the things my friends did but they still acted as if they know it all and are perfect. My friend cheated on her husband and abandoned the baby and him for some pot smoker. She said parenting was too hard etc. And yet for months they shamed me judged me etc.

    Ive been a single parent, im an orphan i raised my kid from dat dot till now by myself with no help and yet i have never shamed or judged anyone. The only parent i ever had words with in regards ti parenting was a mom of a kid who bullied my child.and vandalised the neighbourhood.

    I wish parents would stop judging and shaming others because karmas a bitch and one day your gonna reap what you have sown.

    1. It would be much better if we all supported each other. Parenting is hard. Single parenting is harder! Babies are all different. My kid was really challenging as a kid and I got judged a lot as a parent too. Having a challenging child helped me understand how different kids need different parenting and how much I don’t know about other parents’ challenges. It really humbled me. It’s too bad your BIL is making you feel judged. Hopefully he’ll stop doing that when he discovers what it’s like to not have the support of the nursing staff.

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