Whether it’s from single parents or couples or combos of people, almost everyone responsible for raising a child struggles with the notion of how to be a good parent. And by struggle I mean they’re certain they’re transferring their worst faults to their kid and that freaks them out. Fortunately it doesn’t have to. You can relax.
My Dad is an absolutely brilliant parent and it was easy. He only went to grade eight. You would call him clever but not notably smart. He owned a little company and did okay but he was no brilliant businessman nor did he get rich. Considering how much time every kid spends with their parents I recall very little of our total time spent together, but what I do remember very clearly is his leadership through life. I remember how he lived.
Since shoe-tying Dad never really teaches me anything directly. He didn’t sign me up for classes or have here’s how it is talks, he’s just lived and let me watch things and he answered questions when I asked. And it turns out that’s really what matters most when it comes to succeeding as a parent. It’s why I still want to be like him today, although now more consciously.
My Dad is truly remarkable in that he’s 90 and I’ve literally never seen him angry or sad in my life. I’ve seen him be strong in the face of adversity or even challenge danger, but not with anger. I’ve seen him deeply concerned for the welfare of others but never sad. I’ve never heard him put down anyone. I’ve never even really heard him complain. Kids copy what their parents do. Good living therefore equals good parenting.
The other thing I got from Dad is a sense of spirit about life. He’d survived Scarlet Fever, The Depression, a terrible and violent father, and he was just about to be transferred from Europe to Asia in WWII when they dropped The Bomb, so he knew well what war was like and everyone then lost friends and family. All of that made being alive that much more important to him and he instilled that in me: it is important to enjoy your life.
The ways Dad creates his own joy is mostly through assisting others. He just really loves to help and because it brings a lot of joy to people I also saw him as a constant source of positivity to others. The reason he realised someone was facing a challenge he could help with was because Dad never thinks about himself much, which is why he’s never angry or sad. Dad thinks about others.
Being invested in other people is a lost art. Everyone’s connected and no one’s connecting. Dad never listened to be polite. He truly always wants to know what’s going on for other people. He loves hearing about other exciting things in their lives and he’s extremely good at being happy for them. He doesn’t dwell on sadness nor commiseration but he’s as with-you as someone can be.
When I get asked why my Dad is so great I’ll mention his emotional stability and decency but that’s not the main reasons I think he’s so good. That’s because he’s invested. He’s always been interested. He cared. And he’s always been supportive. I’ve had a crazy life pursuing crazy dreams and so many of them have come true and so many times he was the only person who didn’t think I was crazy to pursue them.
I love my life despite the usual calamities. It’s no coincidence that I also had a parent who simply loved their kid through their earnest interest in that kid’s life. If your child’s life is unfolding as though what is happening to them is a part of the greatest story you’ve ever read then you will have done an enormous service to your child.
Too many adults think they have to be amazing or it doesn’t matter. That can change if our culture starts valuing a parent’s interest in a child as being far more important than what they provide the child materially. There is no greater way to inoculate a human being against long term failure than to instill in them the idea that, regardless of what’s going on, they always truly matter.
Be a good person, show your kid you love them unconditionally and the rest is up to them. Don’t worry. Do that and they’ll almost always do great.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.