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Being The Kind of Mom You’re Meant To Be
By Debra Gilbert Rosenberg

I believe that a good part of what makes parents wonderful is that they are well suited to parenting their particular child or children, and that their parenting also fits the times in which they live. Similarly, I think that poor parenting does not fit either the parent or the child; “awful” parenting generally is really inattentive to the needs of the children, or very inconsistent, unpredictable, and hard for the children to understand. If your parents’ approach to parenting worked for them and it worked well for you, that’s great. If your parents were neglectful or abusive, that’s a big burden to shoulder. But you are now a parent yourself, and you get to decide how to do that. Each family has unique personalities, other family members, neighborhood influences, finances, community attitudes, and current social norms to consider; your parents’ parenting techniques, good or bad, may not be applicable to your parenting situation.

Judith, the child of a single mom, felt that her mother was never available when she was a child, and she vowed that she would be the kind of mother who volunteered at school, brought home-baked snacks to Brownie meetings, and was active in every aspect of her children’s lives. Once she had children, though, she felt overwhelmed and uncomfortable with the goals she had set for herself. She found she hated baking, and wasn’t couldn’t sustain interest in playing with her children for hours. She missed her job, and she liked her home to be especially clean and tidy. Her expectations of herself as a mother were not in keeping with who she really was as a person. She was constantly disappointed in herself and in her children, so even though she tried to do what she felt was right, her kids felt her disappointment and frustration, and her trying to be an ever-present stay-at-home mom failed miserably. Her efforts to “correct” her own parenting didn’t work because they didn’t take into consideration who she and her children were as specific people.

People are all different. Some moms adjust easily and thrive on being the all giving earth mother while others feel trapped. Some children adore having mom in the classroom, or as the scout leader, while others prefer that their childhood experiences be separate from their mothers’. We all know that some children respond well to firm, clear expectations while others require more discussion and explanations before they are willing to comply. Parents are also comfortable with different styles of parenting, and trying to be a different kind of parent than you are meant to be may be very awkward or unsuccessful.

As difficult as this is to do, great parenting comes from parents who know who they are as individuals, and they tailor their parenting to fit the needs of their current family. They know their own strengths and weaknesses, their children’s needs, abilities, and quirks, and accept them all. They also know when to get help, when to be active, when to hold back. They generally do not parent according to some textbook or expert, but according to general parenting principles, like being honest, consistent, reliable, and fair, and with the attitudes and aptitudes of their children as well as themselves in mind. They love the children that they have, even if they aren’t who or what they might have chosen, and they accept themselves enough to be real, to listen to the kids, and to tailor their parenting strategies to fit everyone’s ages, personalities and needs.

The idea here is not to be the parent you had or wished you’d had, but to be the parent that your kids need, as best you can given the kind of person you are. If you know you have a problem with patience, work on it. If you know that you can’t stand nursery rhymes, and your toddler loves them, get someone else to read to him. Provide for your children’s needs while being honest about who you are as a person, and you will be a great parent.

Debra Gilbert Rosenberg, LCSW, is the mother of three, a licensed clinical social worker, and an adjunct faculty member in the Sociology Department at Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois. She works part time at a community mental health center and runs discussion/support groups for first time mothers. She is the author of The New Mom's Companion: Care for Yourself While You Care for Your Newborn, a guide for first time mothers to help them adjust to the many emotional, relationship, identity, and physical changes that accompany motherhood, published by Sourcebooks, Inc, in April, 2003, and Motherhood Without Guilt: Being the Best Mother You Can Be and Feeling Great About It, a book that helps mothers become more self-accepting and confident about their motherhood, also published by Sourcebooks, Inc.

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