From Trekkie to Parenthood: Developing Characteristics of a Confident Parent
One of my favorite memories from growing up is the time I spent with my mom watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, that’s STNG for those of us in the Trekkie world. We’d sit in my room on my bed and watch the latest episode. I loved it and still do. I love how everything works out in the end. I love all the techno babble that somehow totally makes sense even though I have no idea what they are talking about most of the time.
Oddly enough, for a long time, I felt like I had to hide my Trekkie-ness. I was more than a little embarrassed to admit that I had read and owned over 60 Star Trek books. It wasn’t just Trekkie things that I was embarrassed about. I am a sci-fi person. If a movie or show has the word ‘star’ in it, I most likely have watched it and may have even read academic papers that analyze the dynamic and social construct of the show. In fact, for the final paper in my college television criticism class, I wrote a paper about the use of lighting and camera angles to create tension in a scene from The X-Files. While The X-Files isn’t Star Trek and borders on horror, it’s still pretty sci-fi.
What I keep thinking about today was my fear of being judged as a Trekkie. What has made me afraid to reveal information about myself or decisions that I have made? It is fear judgment, fear of making mistakes, or fear of admitting mistakes. Oddly enough, my experience as a Trekkie has helped me become a more confident parent.
Fear of Judgment
Never before in our history has it been so easy to judge others from a distance. Using the internet, anyone can weigh in on choices that people make. Look at the lives of celebrities and politicians that have their hair, clothing, parenting, as well as book and movie choices scrutinized by the media and public.
But it’s not just celebrities and politicians that face this kind of criticism anymore. The internet has opened anyone up to judgment if they are willing to exist in the public domain. Frankly, it’s hard not to have some connection to social media and anything you do there can open you up to criticism or judgment. It can be difficult to be a confident parent when you know putting up the wrong picture or making the wrong comment on a post can make you a target of parent judging.
I think the most prominent example right now concerns the parents of a child that was killed by an alligator at a Disney resort. While many people have come out in sympathy for these parents, there are others that want to place blame, point a finger, and judge. Some people have stepped up in the parent’s defense, as they should, while others are sure that there was some blatant error on the side of the parents.
I’ve written about parent judging before, but it seems to rear its ugly head even in cases that are tragic, unpredictable accidents.
Fear of Making Mistakes
In no other aspect of my life am I more fearful of making mistakes than in regards to my children. I desperately want to be a good parent. Not because I want anyone’s approval, but because I want to raise good, strong, confident children that make the transition to adulthood and become contributing members of society. That’s no small task.
Yet if you look around, there are books, websites, and other parents telling you how to raise your children. Experts are telling parents to lay their babies down a certain way, don’t feed them strawberries before they are two, and don’t let them watch television, and don’t, don’t, don’t. When I actually cared about what experts said, it made me crazy.
After we had our first child, I become obsessed with trying to do everything ‘right’. I didn’t realize at the time, not until I had a few more children, that parenting is far more open to interpretation than I had ever thought. Of course, there are universal rights and wrongs, but there are other areas that are strictly a matter of choice, such as sleep training. Who is to say what is best? What works for one child may not work for another. If it works for one family and not another, does that mean that one them is doing something wrong? Not at all.
Trying and Learning
Those areas that are a matter of choice rather than absolute rights and wrongs are the ones that open us up to judgment and criticism. When it comes down to it, most parents are simply trying to make the right decisions. Does that mean they always make the right ones? No. Does that mean they don’t make mistakes? No. We are all imperfect. Let’s admit it, mistakes happen. Mistakes are normal and they aren’t necessarily bad. Mistakes give us opportunities to learn what works and what doesn’t.
I’ve made parenting mistakes that I wish I could erase but I can’t. The best I can do is learn and try not to repeat the same mistakes. For example, I’ve yelled at my kids. In fact, I’ve yelled at them today. Every day I wake up and think ‘I’m not going to yell at my kids today’, only to find that after breaking up arguments for the first 45 minutes of the day my voice has definitely gotten to a level that the neighbors can hear. (My neighbor’s house isn’t even visible from mine and is over 900 feet away.)
I’m not proud that I yell at my kids but it happens. If someone wants to think I’m a terrible parent because I yell, okay. Occasionally, I’ll see a parent at the park or grocery store yelling at their child. There was a time that I might have felt a little pride in myself that – at least I’m not like that parent. I don’t think that way anymore.
Now, when I see a scene unfolding in public, I give the other parent the benefit of the doubt. Who knows maybe their spouse has been gone for a week and they’ve been alone with the kids, or they haven’t gotten enough sleep because their child has decided to party every night at 2 am, or they’ve cleaned up poop four times already and they’ve had it, or they are having a bad day. I’ve learned that viewing one small moment in someone’s life doesn’t give you an accurate picture and it does not give us the right to judge.
Supporting Other Parents without Judging
There are confident parents that I admire because they unapologetically talk about their parenting choices without trying to convince me that their choices should be my choices. I don’t see or feel judgment from them if I do things differently. I respect that. It gives me the opportunity to glean wisdom in ways that work for my family.
I want to be that parent. The one that listens without judging. The one that knows when to hold their tongue and when to speak. I want to be the parent that knows when to stand up for their child but is not overbearing and understands that sometimes our children are different when out of our presence.
Those amazing, wise parents have some characteristics in common that I am trying to develop in myself. They:
- Listen – They have perfected the art of listening to understand rather listening to respond. They listen until you are done without interjecting a response. They take the time to contemplate what you’ve said before they start talking. To me, that is good listening and being thoughtful. They don’t give you a half-baked idea that they’ve had prepared even before you finished what you were saying.
- Know Their Limitations – These parents know they don’t know everything. Somehow acknowledging that fact gives them power and wisdom. Maybe that’s what makes them such great listeners because they are trying to learn all they can from others’ experiences. When they share their knowledge it is with the understanding that it is limited to their own experience.
- Don’t Judge – This is my favorite characteristic. These parents don’t judge others. When they see a toddler having a breakdown in the grocery store parking lot, they offer to help unload groceries. They give you a “we’ve all been there” when you’re standing in line and your kid is screaming because you won’t buy them the Rapunzel doll hanging next to the cash register.
- Have Confidence without Arrogance – What a fine line these parents walk. They can confidently tell you what they did to get through difficult phases with their children yet do not have the arrogance to think that it is the only solution to the problem. Somehow they know when to speak up in defense of their beliefs and when to simply smile and nod.
These kinds of parents support other parents. They build up the parents around them with waves of parenting confidence.
That is the confident parent I want to be.
Accepting Who You Are as a Person and Parent
Back to Star Trek, developing these parenting characteristics starts with becoming comfortable with who we are. I like Star Trek and some people think that makes me nerdy. Okay, I’m nerdy.
We taught our children to sleep through the night by laying them down and letting them cry it out. That doesn’t work for everybody. Okay. Co-sleeping didn’t work for me. Okay, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work for someone else.
We can start by acknowledging that there is more than one way to achieve the desired result. There is more than one way to get a child to sleep through the night. There is more than one way to teach responsibility. There is more than one way to raise confident, capable children.
I haven’t developed all the characteristics yet, but I’m working on it. I want to support other parents in a way that I, too, hope to be supported – with love and understanding. I know that I’m going to fail along the way but if I keep trying, maybe someday I’ll be one of those calm, confident, assertive parents I admire.