David Elkind, the famous developmental psychologist, once wrote that “parenting is an attitude”. I recall that when I read this statement, many years ago, I didn’t quite understand it. I had a glimmer of what he meant, but I kept thinking: What type of attitude? And it can’t just be an attitude, right? After all, a parent actually has to do something to raise children.
I think I understand now what Elkind meant. There is, as you know, a lot of advice out there, from a variety of “experts”, about how to parent children. Some advocate using rewards and stickers; others speak of the importance of reasoning with children. Still others talk about how to talk so that kids will listen. And the advice goes on.
I think that what Elkind was saying is that, at rock bottom, if a parent has a clear sense of his or her role, the parenting “techniques” will come as a matter of course. Or, at the very least, having a clear sense of the role of a parent can help a parent separate helpful advice from not-so-helpful advice. To have a “parenting attitude” is to have a set of values that defines who you are in relation to your child. Having the right attitude is a parent’s home base – it’s what the parent can return to when everyday and not-so-everyday issues arise between parents and children.
So, just what is this attitude that is so important to the process of parenting? It’s simply this:
I am your parent. I’m not your friend, your playmate, your maid or your chauffeur. I’m not your equal. I am responsible for your safety and development. I am here to teach you how to be successful in the world. Why is this? Well, for one thing, I brought you into the world, or I chose to bring you into my world. For another, I love you and don’t want anything bad to happen to you. But, most important, it’s because I know more than you do. I know things that you need to know in order to be successful in the world. And yes, I have a better understanding of what’s good for you than you do. Now, this doesn’t mean that I’m all knowing and that I am not going to make mistakes. I am not all knowing. I’m going to make mistakes. But when I do, they will be honest mistakes, mistakes I’ve made because I did what I thought was right for you in the moment. So no, I’m not perfect. And over time, I’m going to learn a lot from you about how to parent you. Over time, as you learn to be more and more successful in the world, I’m going to turn over more and more responsibility to you for doing things yourself, and for doing things right. That’s what growing up means. However, know this: If you fail to do the right thing, you’re going to find me right there, showing you the way until you can get it right. So you see, even though it might not always seem to be so to you, I’m on your side. You are my son/daughter, and you’re stuck with me. You’re not going to get rid of me. I’m here to help you get what you want out of life, but to help you to do it in the right way. And if it turns out that you want the wrong things, I’m here to help you turn the wrong things into right things. Why? Because I am your parent. I’m not your friend, your playmate, your maid or your chauffeur…
Now that would be parenting with attitude!