4 Ways We Learn to Parent, & The Good News About our Parenting Potential
That’s one thing that makes parenting so hard: There is no simple formula. We’re not automatically given great parenting skills just because we have a baby. We don’t always know what to do. And, as those of us with more than one know, each child is also unique and arrives into the world with his or her own strengths and weaknesses that we have to then interpret and work with. All of this makes parenting pretty darn complex.
So, if the majority of us don’t come to parenthood fully trained, then where do we learn to parent? And, what does that mean about our parenting potential? Let’s take a look.
1) We Learn Parenting Skills from our Parents.
Yep. The main way we learn to parent is by watching our own parents. Some of us were blessed with incredible parents who modeled how to be a patient, loving parent, how to handle misbehavior, and how to take responsibility as a parent and do our own “work” too. A definite parenting advantage.
Many others of us, however, were not so fortunate. Maybe we had parents who were trying to do their best, but made many mistakes. Or, parents who never took ownership of being a parent, who never realized that parenting is more about the parent than the child. Or, worse—had parents who were absent, neglectful, selfish, or even abusive. That’s a definite parenting disadvantage. How do we learn to parent if we weren’t shown the way?
The good news: Even if our parenting example was less than ideal, we can choose to learn and practice parenting skills, and we can seek good parenting examples and emulate them. We can improve. All of us. Isn’t that great? All it takes is a commitment to being the best parent we can be.
2. We Learn Parenting Skills from Observing Others
Whether from friends, neighbors, or even strangers, much of what we learn about parenting comes through the advice and example of others. This starts when we are young; we may see how our grandparents parent–or our friends’ parents, or other adults in our lives. As we become parents, we then may watch our friends, neighbors, co-workers, or even strangers, and learn tips and tools as we pay attention to their way of doing things. The people in our life will go through experiences we have yet to handle, and, as we observe, we can gain valuable understanding and insight. For example, I am now raising four teenaged sons. But, a few years ago, when I had no teens yet, I watched my older friends with their teenagers. We talked about raising teenaged sons, and I listened to their advice. It’s been a great help, now that I’m in the thick of it. And, it’s been especially helpful to know that the hard times I face, parenting teenagers, are normal.
In addition, many kids who witness poor parenting from their own parents are able to look to others and learn to do better as they grow up. Think of a child of an alcoholic, who decided when he was young that he was not going to turn out like his father. He didn’t have a good parenting example, so he watched his friends’ parents, and his teachers, and coaches. He repeated what they modeled, and did the opposite of his father. And one day, he became a fantastic, sober, loving father. We’ve all heard inspiring parenting stories like this.
The good news: It’s never too late to seek positive parenting models and emulate them. Look to a neighbor, a friend, a sibling, an aunt or uncle, a grandparent, or even a stranger who’s parenting her children at the mall. Just find someone whose parenting skills you respect and admire. Then, watch. Listen. Ask questions. Try what they do, and see if it works for you. We can all learn from observing the great parenting skills of those around us.
3) We Learn Parenting Skills from Books, Media, & Experts
I remember—when I only had one child, an 18 month old—I showed a video in a parenting class I was teaching. The mother in the video calmly ignored her tantrum-throwing toddler in the checkout line at the grocery store, speaking pleasantly to the cashier, ignoring the looks of the judgmental people around her, and making it calmly to the car, where she strapped the worked-up 2-year old into his seat and drove home as he fell asleep. She understood that she was the parent—the adult—and that her child was simply being a tired child. She didn’t lose it or bribe him or let the glares of other shoppers get to her. I loved that video! Here I was, the “expert” teaching the class, yet learning parenting skills as I taught (that’s why I love to teach—I always learn the most!). To this day, I recall that video when my little ones are melting down in public, and it inspires me to do a little better.
The good news: There’s a lot to learn from good books, media, and experts. After all, people become parenting “experts” and write books on the topic because they have learned a thing or two. There are dozens of great parenting books out there, one to fit each of our needs and styles, and the needs of our children (trust me—I’ve read them all!). There are tools and advice for every child’s needs and every “issue” we face. Every parent can seek these excellent resources—read, watch, listen, and soak up all the great advice. It helps us be our best, and it lets us know we’re truly not alone! (For a few of my favorite parenting books, see below!)
4) We Learn Parenting Skills from Our Children, & On-the -Job Training
We teach our children, but every parent knows that our children teach us too. Our children are mirrors. Through them, we see our flaws, our mistakes, our humanity. Through them we see our strengths, our gifts, our deep, abiding love. The best and the worst in us reflect as we parent. As we pay attention to these reflections, we learn, we improve. And, we grow.
Let’s face it—parenting is a full-time, forever job. It’s demanding, frustrating, overwhelming, and definitely exhausting. It’s also delightful, surprising, heart-growing, and the best blessing we could ever have dreamed. Every parent knows that being a parent is the best way to develop parenting skills. By doing, we learn. We may make mistakes, and say and do things we later regret, but what matters is that we try. We’re constantly learning as we parent, or at least, we have the opportunity to. If one way doesn’t work, we can learn a new way and try again. We don’t quit. We don’t settle. We never give up.
The good news: As we commit to learning along with our children, we show them we’re in this together—that we are also trying to be better, that we are practicing what we preach. We let them see some of our failures and struggles and emotions, and they get to witness how we work things out. We model for them, and they learn from our example. We also listen to and learn from our children; and as we do, they feel important, respected, and loved. Our relationship is strengthened. Yes, the very best parents are those who simply learn as they go, and never stop learning—from their kids, and from the “job” of being a parent.
As We Learn Parenting Skills, We GROW
Bottom line: There are many ways to learn to be a parent. We don’t have to have been raised by a strong parent to become one; there is hope for each and every one of us. What we have or haven’t learned so far doesn’t matter. What matters is that we continue to learn. As we focus on acquiring the best parenting skills–from our own parents, from those around us, from experts, and from our children–we find ourselves growing as parents. And, as we grow, we inspire our kids to grow too.
Now, that sounds like some pretty great parenting skills, to me.
Coming soon! Parenting Skills: Top 10 Series! Stay tuned!
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What are some of my favorite parenting books? Have a New Kid by Friday (so easy to read and implement—I love it! It’s my new favorite!), Teaching Children Values (My parenting “bible” during some of the toughest years of my life, I love it’s focus on teaching), and Parenting from the Inside Out (fits perfectly with my theory that parenting is about the parent). What are some of your favorites?