02/27/2012 11:51 am ET Updated Apr 28, 2012

Is There a 'Right Way' to Parent?

When I got pregnant with my first child, I read everything I could find on parenting. I wanted to find the 'right way' to parent, which I knew was not how my parents had parented me. I was sure there was a right way -- if only I could find it. Then I could be assured of raising happy, healthy, responsible children.

Through my reading, I developed a form of parenting that I believed was the right way and went about raising my three children following as best as I could the concepts that I believed in. I didn't hit my children. I didn't yell at them. I loved them with my whole heart and soul. I was there for them. I listened to them, nurtured them and thought the world of them.

It worked well -- not perfectly, but well. As adults, they have their issues, but they are good and responsible people. However, in the 43 years that I have been counseling, I have discovered something very interesting: there is no one right way to parent.

I have worked with people whose parents were authoritarian and controlling and they turned out to be loving and responsible people. I have worked with people whose parents were permissive who also turned out to be loving and responsible people. I have worked with people who seemingly were raised by loving parents who turned out to have huge entitlement issues. I have worked with siblings -- even twins -- where one turned out to be loving and responsible and the other highly dysfunctional. How can this be?

I have come to understand two important things about parenting:

  1. The intent behind your parenting choices is as important as the choices themselves.
  2. Children are so inherently different from each other that what is right for one child is wrong for another.

Let's look at each of these.

The Intent Behind Your Parenting Choices is as Important as the Choices Themselves.

When you truly have the highest good of your children at heart, they feel it. You can make a lot of mistakes that don't result in long-term negative consequences when your intent is to love your children and to nurture and support their highest good, as well as nurture and support your own highest good. You might not even know what is in their highest good, but when your intent is to support them in being all they can be and all they want to be, they will feel that love.

I do not advocate hitting and yelling because it is violating and disrespectful. I do not believe that a parent ever has a child's highest good at heart when the parent is trying to control the child with any kind of violence. I once had a chiropractor tell me that in her experience, the wound from a kick from a horse was less damaging than a wound from a kick from a parent, because the horse didn't mean to hurt the child while the parent did. The intent behind the kick made all the difference in the world.

Children are so Inherently Different From Each Other That What is Right For One Child is Wrong for Another.

Each child comes in with his or her own unique soul and soul's journey. One child comes in highly sensitive, another very outgoing, another affectionate, another inward. What rolls off one child's back feels deeply violating to another. As parents, it is your job to tune into what your particular child needs rather than following a single way of parenting. One child may need clear boundaries and consistent discipline, while another needs to feel free to follow his or her own inner voice.

Loving parenting means that you do not become rigid in your parenting, believing that you have found the right way to parent. It means that you stay tuned into each child, tuned into your own inner guidance with each child and with each situation.

Margaret Paul, Ph.D. is a relationship expert, best-selling author, and co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding® healing process, recommended by actress Lindsay Wagner and singer Alanis Morissette, and featured on Oprah. She has counseled individuals and couples, and led groups, classes and workshops since 1968, and continues to work with clients from all over the world on phone and Skype. She is the author/co-author of eight books, including the internationally best-selling "Do I Have To Give Up Me To Be Loved By You?" (over 1 million copies sold), "Do I Have To Give Up Me To Be Loved By My Kids?," "Healing Your Aloneness," "Inner Bonding," and "Do I Have To Give Up Me To Be Loved By God?" In 2010, Margaret co-completed a 12-year project called SelfQuest®, which is a transformational self-healing/conflict resolution computer program. SelfQuest® is being offered to prisons and schools and sold to individuals, families and businesses. In addition, Margaret offers a powerful 12-week relationship e-Course, The Intimate Relationship Toolbox, and a weight loss course,, a Free Inner Bonding eCourse and Free Help with relationships, parenting, addictions, personal growth and spiritual growth.

Margaret has three children and three grandchildren. In her spare time, she loves to paint, read, make pottery, and ride her horse.