What is good parenting?
If you have children, I bet you’ve asked this question.
And if you are a parent facing divorce and uncomfortable decisions about physical custody, visitation, and financial support, the question of who is the better parent often comes up.
Obviously, a child’s physical needs for safety, shelter, food, and clothing come first. If your divorce involves issues of addiction and abuse, those factors interfere with the health and well-being of you and your children and are a primary consideration. Fortunately, that is not the case for most families.
I’m talking about the idea of ‘good enough parenting’; since none of us are perfect parents. We all love our children and want them to grow up healthy and happy, but we wonder, what’s most important when we think about good parenting?
Years ago, way back in 2010, Dr. Robert Epstein summarized 50 years of research about the factors that affect parenting. After compiling the results, he found ten things that most affect children positively or negatively.
Not surprisingly, number one was love and affection. When parents support and accept the child, are physically affectionate, and spend time together, kids feel loved.
However, many people didn’t expect that the parents’ stress level and conflict between the parents would rank second and third.
Now, I know you may be very stressed right now.
Divorce is a major stress for everyone, but we’re talking about a constant way of life. Parents who learn to reduce their stress, practice relaxation techniques, and promote a positive attitude—over the long term, raise happy children.
Constant turmoil is terrible for your mental and physical health and destructive to your kids.
And conflict between their parents, the two people most children love most in the world, is especially hard for kids. Whether their parents live together or apart matters less than maintaining a respectful, healthy relationship with the co-parent.
It’s crucial to resolve your problems away from your children, not speak badly about the other parent, and model effective communication skills.
Both stress management and conflict resolution are things adults must do within themselves to be healthy parents. It’s one reason I believe a child-centered divorce is so important.
Researchers found successful families promote these behaviors:
- Autonomy and independence. Treat your child with respect as you gradually encourage them to be independent.
- Education and learning. Promote and model learning and provide educational opportunities for your child.
- Life skills. Provide for your child, have a steady income, and plan for the future.
- Behavior management. Extensively use positive reinforcement and punish only when other methods of managing behavior have failed.
- Health. Model and practice a healthy lifestyle and good habits, such as regular exercise and proper nutrition.
- Religion and Values. Support spiritual or moral development.
- Safety. Take precautions to protect your child and maintain awareness of the child’s activities and friends.
These items sound logical but can be challenging.
Some parents find parenting easier, but everyone can learn and improve with practice and education.
No valid studies have shown that race, gender, or marital status influences parenting ability. However, people who have taken parenting classes produce happier, healthier, and more successful children. Fortunately, help is available from books, community classes, and therapists. Never hesitate to reach out—it shows you care.
So, when considering whether you—or your spouse—is the most appropriate parent, think about these factors objectively. What are each parent’s strengths and weaknesses? Are they willing to work on becoming that good enough parent?
When I’m able to calm myself, I am less likely to respond to stressful situations with anger or frustration. My relationship with others is better, too.
Are there ways both parents can move from a conflict mindset to consider negotiation and collaboration to find solutions that work in your children’s best interests?
Believe me, when I say that I’ve seen even complicated cases resolved through hard work, the experience of myself and my team, and parents’ willingness to compromise.
It’s not easy, but helping our children thrive—not just survive—is always worth it.