For decades, experts have been advising new mothers on what they need to do in order to raise healthy and happy children so they may blossom into mentally sound and successful adults. Young moms have been showered with many types of advice to choose from. From the days of Dr. Benjamin Spock, advising parents to be more relaxed and flexible with their children, to Dr. James Dobson’s stance that parents need to be more no-nonsense and authoritative with their children, it’s easy to see how moms can become confused.
Most moms enter this new, exciting chapter of their life unprepared; no fault of their own. How would they know how to be a mom? They’ve never been a mom before. Yet, the expectation is there. These new mothers, and fathers, want the very best for their child, and they envision the numerous possibilities that lie ahead.
Quickly, they realize that parenting is quite complex. In turn, they reach out to parenting experts for advice, but unfortunately, receive a barrage of contradicting messages. These messages also change over time, based on the ‘current trends’ on how to be a good parent. Whether reading the latest “how to” parenting books, or searching online through an endless supply of expert advice, new parents have their work cut out for them.
Here are just a few examples of this contradicting advice:
Confusing? Absolutely. And these are just a few examples of the conflicting messages parents must sift through on a daily basis. The end result? Very anxious parents, in particular moms, who are now faced with making parenting decisions under an ever-increasing amount of stress and self-doubt. And to make matters worse, these same parents are now being told that their own anxiety can harm their child’s emotional well-being, increasing the chance of long-term damage to the child’s mental health. So now, we’ve added a layer of guilt onto the shoulders of these already frazzled parents.
As a parent and former school counselor of 30 years, I’m all for helping to guide parents in areas of need. But it seems as if we’ve come to a dangerous divide, one which I see to be harmful to both parent and child. This divide is causing parents, in particular moms, to become “too frightened to parent” for fear of making a mistake.
So what do we do? First, we need to let moms and dads know that there is no ‘one right way’ to parent. They need to understand that outside of such extremes as abuse and neglect, they should parent in the way that seems to work best for their family. Advice can be good, but attaching scare tactics for the future is not only anxiety-inducing, but is unfounded.
Next, we must look at what our evidence-based research is telling us. We now have numerous scientific studies indicating that our genes and inherited traits have enormous influence on who our children are today and who they will become as adults. These studies include the effects of genetics on temperament, personality traits, and certain mental health conditions. (It’s important to understand that we are not saying that DNA is destiny. On the contrary, knowing our genetic predispositions can lead us to take preventive measures for healthier outcomes.)
Peers, culture, and chance events in the environment also have a huge influence, but parenting styles inside the home, apart from extreme cases like abuse or neglect, have very little long-term influence on a person’s personality or their success in life.
Does this mean that parenting doesn’t matter? Well, of course parenting matters, but not in the way we think. Dr. Robert Plomin, author of Blueprint, (how DNA makes us who we are) shares his findings that the major force making us who we are as individuals is our inherited DNA differences. He says, “Parents have much less control over their children’s outcomes than they think they have.” He continues, “In my view, the far-reaching effect of genetics is the single most important fact that parents need to know about parenting.” Dr Plomin continues, “The genetics message can liberate parents from the “do’s and don’ts” message in that parents should relax and enjoy their relationship with their children. Parents should do things for their children because they love them and want to make life good for them, not because they want to change them.” https://iai.tv/articles/parenting-myths-and-the-dna-revolution-auid-1633
Likewise, Dr. Steven Pinker, author of The Blank Slate, states that how parents treat their child matters greatly as it effects the quality of their relationship. Further, parents have an enormous influence on their child’s happiness (or lack thereof) and their well-being. He adds, “It’s never okay to abuse, belittle, or neglect a child because child-rearing is, above all, a moral responsibility.” “So, it’s important that parents be loving to their children for many reasons.” However, he believes that, beyond genetics, parents don’t have much influence on their children’s personalities, intelligence, or life outcomes.
Dr. Pinker then, provides an analogy, using a spouse to spouse relationship, which I will paraphrase. “No one is surprised that they can’t change the personality of their spouse. So, does this mean it doesn’t matter how you treat your spouse? Of course it matters how you treat your spouse. How you treat your spouse affects the quality of your relationship. And how you treat your child, also, matters greatly.
So, moms and dads, there is no doubt that parents are important. However, whether your child succeeds as an adult has to do with many factors; genetics, friendships, illnesses, environment, and a lot of chance. I hope this will help you to enjoy being with your child for the wonderful relationship you can have. Relax, and don’t be too frightened to parent. Enjoy each and every moment of time with your child. It’s worth every second.
(The information in this blog provides educational benefits for teachers, counselors, administrators, and parents in working together as a team. For more information on our educational initiative, please see “Following Daniel’s Lead”.)