There’s No Objective Measure For Good Parenting

Apart from the obvious joys and gifts of parenting there is a dark side: it’s anxiety provoking, humbling, challenging, and messy. It’s nice and neat when we can objectively measure and quantify things. Here’s cut and dry job qualifications or a step by step guide to running a marathon. There’s the long standing adage “there’s no manual for parenting” that we all intellectually grasp but still find difficult to accept within our rigid psyche.

We’ve been taught since birth sets of specific goals, rigid requirements, and concrete accomplishments that measure success. I’ve thrived on objective feedback to validate my efforts. Here’s a “A” grade, an acceptance letter from an Ivy League school, a job title; therefore I’m successful at A, B or C.

In parenting, there are obvious moments when you can think I’m good at this like after your child says “I love you mommy.” Au contraire, there is a shit-storm of other moments where you have no idea where you fall on the spectrum of good parenting. There’s an inherent problem even with the language good parenting: WTF does that even mean? If you google it, Dr. Phil and WebMD have a list of tips for you. Sadly it’s not that simple. We all have different ideas of what constitutes good parenting.

In a society where people check-off a list of requirements to date on a dating site or children need references for elementary school admission: it’s difficult for people to accept we cannot just grade and quantify parenting. There’s something psychologically discomforting about this ambivalence.

There’s the obvious foundation for parenting: loving your children; providing a home free of abuse; helping them grow and thrive; and teaching them to accept/treat others with kindness. The broad stroke elements of parenting but there’s nothing “idiot-proof.” For example: read them this book, send them to this school, or discipline in these specific circumstances.

I’ve noticed parents are attempting to compensate for the lack of objective measures. They do this by creating fake objective measures for good parenting. For example, you’re a good parent only if you:

  • had a natural birth
  • breastfeed
  • didn’t use a pacifier
  • removed televisions from the home
  • stayed at home with your kids
  • took the right amount of maternity or paternity leave to “bond” with your newborn(s)
  • potty trained by age _____
  • packed your kid’s school lunch

The list goes on…

I’m not saying we can’t share suggestions of what has worked for us with other parents (I encourage it). Or that we should be offended by people who parent one way when we parent another. Hell, I write articles on how I parent all the time including my beliefs on healthy eating; but I don’t guise my blog as a guide to good parenting.

We can’t sit and create fake objective measures for good parenting. It’s tempting. I would love an “idiot proof” guide to parenting. I love pacifiers but if there was empirical evidence my child will fail to thrive as a human being because of pacifier use; I’d go ripe it out of his mouth right now.

Unfortunately, parenting isn’t cut and dry. We can try all we want to define a good parent but it’s a crock of shit. The next time you're tempted to judge another parent for sending their children to daycare or only feeding them organic food; check yourself, because YOUR definition of good parenting isn’t THE definition of good parenting.

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