Great Parenting, with one secret ingredient

By Michael

If you want to be a good parent, it helps a lot to have one. Maybe two.

One of my nephew’s friends posted a note on FaceBook about his dad’s birthday and said how much he misses his father. We didn’t talk about it, but I know how he feels.

My dad was a good listener and a good teacher, and I never met anyone who didn’t like him. That says a lot. When he died, he had been retired and ill for a long time, so there were no customers or vendors or anxious heirs to fill the funeral home. Still, it was overflowing, simply because people liked him.

I think about him as the model of the kind of father I wanted to be and want to be, still. I could talk to him about anything and he would listen, without laughing or judging or making sure I knew immediately what he thought of the situation. He taught without lectures. He didn’t view his success as dependent on someone else’s failure, or vice versa. He worked ten hours a day, plus lots of weekends, but he always seemed to have time for me, because I knew he was paying attention when we shared time together.

There are lots of books about how to be a good parent; maybe you’ve read one or twenty. For most of us, whether we read the expert guides or not, our roadmap for parenting is complete by the time we’re ten. Whatever our parents did up until then will lead us on our own journeys.

Later, in our twenties or thirties, our gag reflex goes haywire as we spout the same lines our parents threw at us. “If you keep picking at it, it will never heal.” “Because I said so.” “I don’t care if all your friends are doing it…..” Without even thinking about it, we mimic them.

There’s comfort and caution to be had here. The good examples of our own parents are etched into our synapses, but so are the bad ones. Abused children become abusive parents because that’s what they know. Oddly, I don’t know many pampered children who become doting parents, possibly because they’ve been trained to see themselves as recipients rather than givers. Breaking the patterns can be difficult.

Whatever our backgrounds, it helps to check our internalized instruction manuals. What can we leave on cruise control and what do we need to change, right now and forever?

I’m still working on it, but the girls haven’t sued me for parental malpractice yet. I’m taking that as a good sign.

Thanks, dad.

Michael Rosenbaum is 5 Minutes for Parenting’s first dadblogger. He is a business consultant, playwright and author of Your Name Here: Guide to Life.

Michael blogs on life issues at Your Name Here Guide to Life and manages the Adult Conversation discussion group on Linked-In.

3 Responses to Great Parenting, with one secret ingredient
  1. Holly
    January 26, 2010 | 2:28 pm

    I would like to politely disagree with a generalization in this article. The sentence, “Abused children become abusive parents because it’s what they know.” is far too sweeping and simply not true. While it is true that many times those who abuse where themselves abused it does not follow that all who were abused are doomed to repeat it. Such a statement traps the victim in their abuse.
    Victims of abuse can, and a great many do, choose not to perpetuate the pain inflicted on them. One of my dearest roll models was herself abused as a child. She knew very well she never wanted to do to her children what was done to her. Her grown sons are now all wonderful fathers in part because of what an excellent mother she has been. It doesn’t have to be harder for the victim not to become the abuser; in fact they may well understand more clearly exactly why they do not want to do what was done to them.
    I am truly glad for you that you had such a positive relationship with your father and that he encouraged and shaped your ability to be a good father. I hope that you will also allow that those who did not have the same childhood experience can still have the same outcome. The rest of your article does appear to suggest that possibility.

  2. Michael
    January 26, 2010 | 3:11 pm


    Thanks for the thoughtful response. I am not suggesting all abused children are doomed to become abusive parents, nor that abusive parents develop solely in abusive homes.

    This is, however, a pattern that does exist, along with many others, as children learn their parenting skills from their parents.

    Boys without a proper adult male role model will often–not always–be less equipped to become such role models when they are adults. Girls who do not have a beneficial relationship with a father figure often–not always–find it difficult to engage with men in a beneficial way when they become adults.

    When you find someone who breaks the chain and you ask how it happened, they almost always tell you they made a specific, conscious choice to do so. Absent that choice, most of us–not all–revert to the patterns we learned as children.

    Your friend is to be commended for the choice she made, and the result she appears to have achieved.

  3. Kelly
    January 26, 2010 | 7:32 pm

    I know many people, both male and female, who’ve made that conscious decision to parenting differently than their parents. The best ones are those who can acknowledge some positive in even the worst of backgrounds (because it means they are looking objectively) and learn from the negative.

    But it does make me even more thankful for the wonderful examples I was blessed with. Having two parents who love you and raise you well is a gift beyond measure.

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