Proactive Parenting

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Dear Dr. T.,

Could you give me one basic parenting tip?

I’m a busy Mom, and though I read lots of articles, I feel that I don’t have the ‘answer’ yet. I like to get to the heart of things quickly and would much appreciate your input on this.

Dr. T.,

Your question is like asking a cardiologist for one tip to prevent heart attacks. We all know that heart health is the result of many proactive behaviors on the part of the individual – diet, exercise, monitored blood pressure and controlled cholesterol readings.

Just as it takes a lifetime of vigilance and good habits to develop a healthy heart, effective parenting is the result of years of hard work and a lifetime of choices and behaviors. In both instances, we are looking at lifelong processes, rather than simple, discrete behavior.

Effective parenting is a good example of ‘yagata umatzasa- ta-amin.’ Unfortunately, too many of us assume that parenting ‘just comes naturally’ or we rely on our ability to wing it. Because of this thinking, young parents often spend more time on choosing nursery furniture than learning about early infant development. A Mom may put more effort into the baby’s outfit for the day than in understanding her baby’s body rhythms and needs.

Of course, every parent hopes and dreams of her baby’s bright future, but – without the dedicated work on the parent’s part – it is harder to achieve your goal. “Good kids” are not a matter of luck.

Though I will give you some feedback on your question, I want to point out that my goal is not to answer questions as much as to raise issues. Parenting today is complex, and my purpose is to encourage you to think, read, and consult. It is by working hard to find answers that you will gain the wisdom to be the parent you want to be.

So, let’s get to work and look at this job of parenting – not as a quick fix or simple tip, but as a lifelong process of concerted effort.

We want to begin by acknowledging that parenting is a highly involved process. There are many factors such as the child’s temperament, the environment, family issues [siblings, birth order], school, peer group, and life events. Because of the many, and often changing variables, it is not effective to give a simple set of hard and fast rules. Nor is it effective to do exactly what your parents did- or in the case where that did not work – the complete opposite. Our dynamic world requires us to be ever vigilant, always on our toes, in order to parent effectively. Any parent of a large family with a fifteen year age span between the oldest and the youngest knows exactly what I mean. It is simply not effective to parent the oldest and the youngest in the same way.

Because parenting is evolving and ever-changing, it requires new learning, openness to ideas, and constant soul-searching. At no point are we ‘done’- we are always looking to accommodate new perspectives and information. Our current thinking on ‘children at-risk’ reflects these precise ideas. There is no one way to work with this population: parents and professionals are always searching for some other approach that might be effective.

Basically, good parenting requires new learning, observation, and listening – among other things.

-Learning- Whether it be professionals- psychotherapists or pediatricians- or school personnel- there is a plethora of information available today. There are many Torah and secular publications- books, newspapers, and magazines- which were not available to our parents and grandparents. Stay current. Be informed. Learn what is out there and see what works for you and your family.

-Observation- There are many role models in our society – people who clearly have a special touch with children. Observe a rebbe / morah, a bubby or zaidy, your friend or neighbor and see what you can pick up. But, even more important- develop the capacity to observe yourself! Take the time and devote the energy to reflect on your behavior and actions and evaluate what is effective and what requires change. Since much of parenting occurs in the privacy of our own homes, your ability to see yourself as you are and then self monitor and correct is critical here. And, most importantly, observe your children. Are they resentful or content? Are they succeeding outside the home – in school and with friends? Your child’s behavior and manner tells you what you need to know.

-Listen- to your children. We do not parent in a vacuum; our children are partners in this process. So, listen when they tell you how it’s going. Pay attention when they have some feedback; you may be surprised at what you hear.

And, as always, ask for siyata d’shmaya from the partner in all our endeavors, Hakodosh Boruch Hu. May our efforts to do this most critical avodah of raising the next generation find favor in His eyes and merit much success and nachas.

Recommended reading

Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe.
A basic – covering topics like discipline, emotions, and relationships – written by the noted psychotherapist and Mishpacha columnist.

Sara Teichman, Psy D. is a psychotherapist in private practice in Los Angeles and Clinical Director of ETTA, LA’s largest Jewish agency for adults with special needs. To submit a question or comment, email DrT@jewishhomela.com