By Alan Meban
Amidst a lot of recent talk about getting a large political deal ‘done’, I was reminded about a quote from Clive James:
“The thing you need to know about parenting is that you can’t get it ‘right’, you can only get it ‘done’.”
Certainly, my history of parenting is littered with mistakes that take the shine off any moments of accidently getting it right. In a previous column I wrote about the day I intervened to stop our child carrying a huge branch around Tollymore Forest Park by grabbing it and throwing it back into the undergrowth, triggering a meltdown that was totally avoidable given how quickly any youngster would have abandoned carrying something so heavy.
As regularly as the sun rises and sets, I’m capable of tripping up. Impatience dressed up as being in a hurry, knowing better disguised as sharing unsuppressible insight, anxiety camouflaged as foreseeing problems, not to mention steering decisions to suit my selfish plans. Guilty M’Lud on all charges.
“Recognising hypocrisy must surely be one of the first things children learn from their parents.”
Recognising hypocrisy must surely be one of the first things children learn from their parents. The “do as I say and not as I do” method is unlikely to be advocated in any parenting manual – is it bad that I can’t remember ever opening one? – yet it’s often my default approach. If we let technology and screens suck our time and attention as parents, we can hardly expect our little people to appreciate attempts to limit their use of technology. When we happily eat junk food and avoid vegetables like they’re toxic radioactive waste, it’s little wonder that children may not be getting their five a day.
It’s difficult not to be overprotective as a parent when my own life experience teaches me that it’s a jungle out there with plenty of physical and emotional obstacles to trip over, dangerous places and dangerous people, and stacks of avoidable agony. Yet a certain amount of rough and tumble can breed resilience and provide perspectives that can’t be learned in a classroom or across the dinner table.
Behavioural scientist Dr Paul Martin recognises four styles of parenting: authoritative, authoritarian, indulgent and uninvolved. He admits that they are “over-simplifications of a complex reality” and says that many parents “display a mix of two or more styles, albeit often with a dominant theme” and may even vary their style towards different children.
Being an uninvolved parent risks being so laid back that you’re unresponsive and stray into reckless neglect. Indulgence leans towards a generosity that ruins and avoids conflict, with few threats issued and even fewer carried out. Authoritarian parents demonstrate unjustified intervention, issuing commands without explanation, criticism untouched by love, and inconsistent praise.
What most parents apparently long for – and the one that psychological research associates with happier outcomes and the promotion of healthy self-esteem, playfulness and emotional intelligence – is the authoritative style. Firm boundaries are set, plentiful support is available, children are loved unconditionally and accepted, parents are involved without being controlling, limits are set without being too risk-averse, and conflict is embraced when boundaries have been breached.
Any children reading this column should realise that just as they are still learning to cope in the world, adults are often bluffing at being expert at juggling the myriad of tasks and emotions that interrupt every day. To be honest, sometimes the need to get it right is lost in the need to just get it done. That’s when my authoritarian backstop will kick in, or my sense of busyness will reek of being uninvolved.
I can only hope that everyone in the family can embrace another nugget of wisdom from the recently deceased Australian critic, poet and author:
“Common sense and a sense of humour are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humour is just common sense, dancing.”