As parents, we often wonder if we're getting it right. Were we too hard on our kids when they didn't clean their room? Were we too soft when they pretended not to hear us—again?
Dr. David L. Hill, a pediatrician in North Carolina, author of Dad to Dad: Parenting Like a Pro, and an adviser on Hank Azaria's Fatherhood docu-series, reassures parents that although we will almost definitely mess up sometimes, we can still be great parents with resilient kids.
If we want to parent differently from our own parents, how do we not fall into habits we've seen growing up?
"We may think that our parents really screwed us up, so we’re going to do everything differently. Or we may think that since we turned out so perfect ourselves, our parents must have done everything right, and we should copy them to the letter.
"Neither approach takes into account the extent to which the child-parent relationship depends profoundly on the individual personalities involved. You’re not exactly like your dad, and your child is not exactly like you, so you’re going to have to adapt.
"Just like anything else you hope to do well, read about it, seek out reputable experts (like your child’s pediatrician), and ask lots of questions of people who seem to be doing it well. Listen to your parents, but also ask yourself how your own situation may be different from whatever they faced, and be ready to make adjustments."
There are so many parenting philosophies out there. How can we focus on what works for us?
"While there are a lot of different experts with different points of view, one general principle of parenting stands the test of time. The most successful parents have high expectations of their children’s behavior, but they balance those expectations with a high degree of sensitivity to their children’s needs. In the psychology literature this model is called 'authoritative parenting,' and multiple studies show that this type of parenting can help keep your kids in school, out of jail and off drugs.
"Authoritative parents set age-appropriate limits for their children, and they provide love, support and attention. What that looks like in your family depends on your own values and individual personalities. Whatever you try, be consistent with it, and give it time to work. When parents veer wildly from one parenting plan or style to another, kids naturally get confused."
What's the best way to approach a husband or wife when he/she has a different approach to a parenting situation?
"Boy, this can be a tough one! The more the two of you can make a plan beforehand, the better. And by 'beforehand,' I mean prior to getting married. If the two of you talk and find that you have completely incompatible views of parenting, maybe having kids together is not the best idea.
"Assuming you’re not in that category, spend part of the pregnancy period learning about child behavior and development, taking some time to talk about your thoughts. Communicate frequently about what you think is and is not appropriate, and when a conflict arises, have a low threshold to ask for advice from a pediatrician, counselor or teacher."
How do we face that fear of "messing up" our kids?
"As a parent, I constantly struggle with the fear—no, with the certainty—that I’m doing stuff wrong. We can all think of things we wish our own parents had done differently, and we dread the idea of our children growing up harboring the same feelings about us. At the same time, no one can really define what perfect parenting is, and if it could be defined it’s inevitable we would all fall short of it at times.
"The saving grace for us as parents is that our children are more resilient than we give them credit for. While none of us is going to handle every situation perfectly, our kids don’t need perfect parents; adequate ones will do. We have to be willing to change course when things seem to be going the wrong way, and we have to be humble enough to admit when we’re wrong and to apologize. If we never made mistakes, we couldn’t model for our kids how to deal with making mistakes. Give them a hug, and move on."
What do consider to be the best advice for new dads?
“'You can do this.' While society is changing, I still think there are a lot of places that fathers face, shall we say, low expectations. People seem so surprised when we succeed at little things, like dressing our children in clothing that matches. As a parent and a pediatrician, however, I see dads every day who are excelling as parents and taking on roles far beyond those traditionally assigned to dads. No one will ever say fatherhood is easy, but then what is that’s worth doing? You’ve got this."