Great parents: we know them, we watch them, we learn from them and ultimately, we want to be them. Between our children's other parent and the many adults that surround our kids, we are exposed to a vast array of parenting models and practices. Some we emulate, many we reject and over the years, we bear witness to some great parenting, even if it isn't always happening in our own homes.
Great parenting? It is hard to define and may even be a matter of opinion, but the only way to improve is to set the bar high and try to learn something from those we admire.
Perfect parenting is a painful and elusive goal. Great parenting is within all of our grasps.
Here are some of the things that great parents do.
1. Great parents realize that their marriage/relationship isn't theirs alone, but rather acts as a model for their children for their rest of their lives. Whatever anger, affection, intolerance or kindness parents show towards each other will reverberate down through the generations.
2. Great parents know that their world may revolve around their children, but the real one doesn't. If they are confused, their children will be as well.
3. Great parents delve deeply into their children's passions, showing their kids both care and respect and finding yet another way to bond. By learning the intricacies of hockey or Pokemon, great parents let their children know that they respect and even admire their child's chosen interest, even it it might not have been their own.
4. Great parents have a healthy relationship with money, food and alcohol. All of these relationships are learned at home and turn out to be painfully difficult to alter later in life. Great parents try to start their kids off right.
5. Great parents model good sibling relationships with their own brothers and sisters, knowing that the relationship among their children will ultimately be the longest and one of the most important relationships in their children's lives.
6. Great parents are willing to tell their child that they are not that good at something, knowing that as a result, their compliments will carry much more weight. Great parents do not sacrifice their credibility on the altar of self-esteem.
7. Great parents show the same enthusiasm with the first child as the last, be it for a lost tooth or college admissions. No doubt this is a parenting challenge.
8. Great parents require that their children live up to their potential even when it makes that child angry or the parent temporarily despised. Despite all platitudes, none of us try our hardest or are at our best at everything. Yet children who are encouraged to give something, anything -- be it sports, academics or any pursuit -- their all, learn early in life about concerted effort and focus.
9. Great parents remember that at the moment their child hates them, has daggers flying out of their eyes and vicious language pouring out of their mouths, tears barely held in check, they may be doing some of their very best parenting. These are not moments to be soothed over or backed away, from as painful as that might be.
10. Great parents realize that anxiety is contagious, and while it may seem like kids catch it from their friends, it turns out the worst cases are contracted at home. When great parents see anxiety in their children, they don't panic, but take a long, hard look at themselves.
11. Great parents adapt to each child and don't adhere to notion that it is unfair to treat their children differently. They know that their children are siblings, not clones, and that setting standards that need to be followed by all is tantamount to parenting with our eyes closed.
12. Great parents never confuse who is the adult and who is the child and who is in charge, even when the child towers over the parent and would win in a fair fight. There is a reason children live under our roof, and substituting their judgement for our own is not great parenting.
That said, one can still be a great parent without doing some or any of the things listed above. We cannot teach our children to be the best that they can be if we have not tried to be the best parent we can be, no matter the challenge. Great parents know that parenting lasts a lifetime and that on any given day or week, we may fall decidedly short of our aspirations. Luckily, parenting is made up of months, years and yes, a lifetime.