"They are such great parents!" is a statement I've heard a lot over the years. It is often said about someone who is doing a wonderful job raising difficult kids, or raising a family in challenging circumstances, such as following the loss of a partner or while ill.
But I think there's more to it than that. What exactly is it that sets them above others? Whether instinctive or learned, here are a number of behaviours, attitudes and skills that set great parents apart from the rest.
1. Separate themselves from their kids
All parents naturally have hopes and dreams for their children. But great parents don't let their aspirations for their children cloud their judgment or, worse, take autonomy away from children who want to follow their own path.
2. Change as their child changes
You know how it goes. You finally understand what makes a nine-year-old tick, and then he moves into adolescence and the whole game changes. Great parents have a knack for matching their parenting style to their child's developmental age.
3. Know how to lead the gang
Great parents know how to get their kids singing from the same song sheet, at least some of the time. While their children may fight, you can count on them to stick together when the chips are down. This is more than a case of 'blood is thicker than water'. Their parents have somehow managed to develop a sense of 'we' rather than 'me' in their kids. That's real leadership.
4. Know when to nurture the individual
As well as leading the gang, great parents know how to give individual children what they need. This comes from keeping their ear to the ground and knowing what's happening in their children's lives.
5. Love their kids, but don't expect to be liked in return
It's a given that parents love their children, but this unconditional love is not always reciprocated. Great parents don't expect to be liked all the time. In fact, they know that part of the parenting journey means sometimes living with their child's contempt.
6. Have difficult conversations with kids
Sexuality, dealing with loss, teen drinking and forgiveness -- this is a sample of the many difficult conversations that parents should have with kids, but often avoid.
7. Don't shirk discipline
The job of parents is to socialise their kids so they can fit into the wider world. That means parents expect kids to behave, and insist that kids factor in the rights and concerns of others when in public. Some parents will divest the discipline role to others, including their children's school. Great parents roll up their sleeves and teach their kids what it means to be safe and social, which is what discipline is about.
8. Aren't afraid of swimming against the tide of popular opinion
Peer pressure gets to parents just like it gets to kids. Sometimes it seems like every parent is, for example, paying their kids to help out around the house, and you feel like the odd one out because you believe they should help regardless of recompense. It's hard to swim against the tide, but that's what great parents do.
9. Seek to influence, rather than control
Great parents aren't parenting autocrats. They recognise that some kids have minds of their own, so they cut them some slack and seek to persuade and influence rather than control.
10. Continually learn and add to their parenting toolkit
Do you know a parent who either yells at or nags their kids when they don't cooperate? If so, you know a parent with a limited parenting toolkit. Discipline, like confidence building, requires a broad kit of tools which enable you to nuance your discipline according to different situations. Otherwise, like a carpenter building a house with only a hammer and saw, you'll be severely limited with what you can achieve.