How to be a Great Parent: Trying to be Great When You Didn’t Have Great Parenting Examples to Learn From

How can we be(come) a great parent?

It’s a well known fact that we learn from the examples we are set. That this is ingrained into us from the youngest of ages. That when all is said and done, we are essentially the products of our upbringing.

So how are we supposed to be(come) great parents when our own parents didn’t do a great job with raising us? If learnt behaviour shapes our entire lives, what about the less than desirable behaviour we learn while we’re growing up?

We need to unlearn it (and the sooner we start, the better)

Why? Because trying to conquer our own demons whilst raising a family is mind blowingly hard. So it’s best to get a head start on the things we know are going to cause us trouble. If we can bury those monsters before having kids, then fantastic. If we need a bit more help later down the line, then we have to be honest with ourselves and recognise it.

For those new around here, I’m the survivor of a seriously dysfunctional childhood. The biggest examples I was set during my formative years were the complete opposite of what it means to be a great parent.

There was very little, if any, consideration given to how a decision or consequences of certain behaviour would affect the kids. Things were done cack handedly and reactively. The adults never took stock of what was happening and thought maybe they shouldn’t continue leading the family into disaster after disaster.

It boggles my mind, really it does. My entire life revolves around trying to make decent decisions that have the best interests of the family at heart. Even so, I don’t get it all right. Far from it.

I screw up, often

Some days even doing everything “by the book” I’ll still eventually snap. Other days (yes, I’m looking at you PMT) I can’t not be snappy if I try. If I know I’ve been out of order however, I’ll always apologise to the children. It’s vital they see their grown ups admitting when they are in the wrong and saying sorry for their mistakes.

My kids are obsessed with LEGO and love all the movies. In the latest film the main character was abandoned by his father when he was a baby. Fortunately for him, his mother was a great parent. He learnt how to be a good person from her, but missed out on a whole host of other skills that he believes would have been passed down from his dad.

Lets put the fact that they’ve gone wildly down the gender stereotyping road to one side for a second. Watching this film for the six hundredth time last night I found myself getting emotional, and Polly asked why I looked like I was about to cry. So I answered her as honestly as I could.

“No-one taught me how to be a good person, I had to learn all by myself.”

I’m not saying that my family are evil paedos or murderers, because they’re not that bad, but don’t get me started on the term moral compass. Skewered doesn’t even come close! Their sense of right and wrong, and lack of taking responsibility was the main reason I decided to cut ties all those years ago.

There were so many things I had to learn without guidance 

Things that came naturally to so many of my friends just didn’t for me. This is why I’ll be eternally grateful for my early amazing influences. Two of my besties who I shared a house with when I was a teenager. Another ex-housemate come one time best friend who taught me more about kindness and tolerance than he’ll ever know. My wonderful husband who has always and continues to challenge me when I veer too far down a detrimental path.

The sad fact remains though, that no-one taught me not to be angry, defensive and indignant when I felt wronged as a child. I lived life until I was around eighteen years old in constant fight or flight mode. My cortisol levels are foobarred. My brain doesn’t instantly rationalise new situations, it goes into potential threat mode. I have to constantly ground myself. We’re talking multiple times, every single day. Just to keep myself afloat.

I’ve been agonising lately about trying to be a great parent in the face of all this

In my late twenties, fresh off the back of mental breakdown and rock bottom, I had it all sussed. I would simply be the most amazing wife, mama and friend that ever walked the planet. And it really was that simple to me. I’d already lost so much. All my family, some of my friends, almost lost my husband but thankfully not. I was reformed. I was at peace with myself for the first time ever.

Then I had three kids in four years. I haven’t had more than the odd full night of sleep for nearly a decade. Autism has entered our lives, and although it comes with many gifts, it also comes with serious additional challenges. It’s led us down the path of home educating, and most of the time it’s an incredible thing. It also means that respite is in very short supply though, and the lack of respite can trigger off stress on various levels.

I do all the right things. I eat well, do yoga, live a conscious and natural lifestyle. I don’t drive a car, because it’s one of the most eco things we can do. I buy all our clothes second hand for the eco aspect. I currently have a Himalayan salt lamp glowing next to an essential oil diffuser burning organic lavender. Not because I’m being paid to do so, because I truly believe it can help us relax and heal whatever is troubling our minds. I want to be able to look at this time and know that I was a great parent.

I try so damn hard, but what if I wake up one day and realise that my best wasn’t enough?

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