advice

The Only Two Rules Every Parent Needs

I loved Renee’s post yesterday, not because I agreed with every point she made (although I did agree with most of them), but because her lists tapped into the fundamental worry of our generation of parenting–that we are going to irrevocably fuck up our kids.

When I was growing up in the late 70s and 80s, my parents didn’t worry about this. They worried about kidnapping, and whether or not we were going to get AIDS if we cut ourselves at school. My worried grandparents raised their kids in the shadow of air raids and bomb shelters during the height of the Cold War. I’d venture to guess none of them obsessed over whether giving their children a pacifier or putting them to sleep in a crib would permanently damage them.

Perhaps they had more wisdom and knowledge, passed down from mothers and grandmothers, from neighbors who sat on the porch chatting and gossiping rather than staring at screens in the privacy of their own homes. They certainly had less information, which, I would argue, is often a good thing.

Mothers of my generation and cohort tend to be older, often (but not always) having developed a career and professional identity before turning our perfectionist tendencies towards our children. We grew into adulthood in a society that tells us that if we learn the right information, make the right choices, and work hard enough, we will get what we want. And what we want is healthy, happy children.

So we direct our drive, skills, knowledge, and ambition into our children. We calm our ever growing anxiety with an illusion of control; if we DO the right things, our kids will grow up to be productive, loving, functional adults. I’m sorry to say that it’s just not true. As a social worker I have sat with individuals who emerged from the most horrendous childhoods with a resilience and strength that is indescribable, and I have sat with others who grew up in Rockwellian families only to develop drug addictions, major mental illness, or other serious challenges.

Life is too complicated, human development is unpredictable.

But the world feels like a very scary place these days, and we all need something to hang on to, whether it’s attachment parenting or Renee’s wonderful list. Here’s what I come back to, time and time again:

Children need to feel safe and loved.

Parents need to surround themselves with people who will support them to become the kind of parents they want to be, and the kind of parents their children need them to be.

Yes, I have opinions about parenting beyond that. (Many, many opinions.) But those are just details, and there are exceptions to every rule. Figure out what works for you, and if what you’re doing isn’t working, try something else. Just make sure your kids are safe and loved, and that you have the support you need, and you’ll be doing the best any of us can do in this crazy, chaotic world.

Carla NaumburgCarla Naumburg, PhD, is a clinical social worker and writer. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post,The Huffington Post, Parents.com, PsychCentral.com, The Jewish Daily Forward, and Psychology Today. Her first book, Parenting in the Present Moment, was published by Parallax Press in October of 2014. She is currently writing a book on teaching mindfulness to children, which will be published by New Harbinger in late 2015. Carla grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the Bay Area of California, and she currently lives outside of Boston with her husband and two young daughters. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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