The life-changing magic of having “good parents”

grayscale photo of family's hands

When I was a teenager my mom and me were driving along the highway and listening to a playlist on our iPod. We moved easily between different topics as we did in the past – and still do. It wasn’t an extraordinary day. It was just another day for us. We were always driving together or going on road trips together. She suddenly turned her head to me and said she wished she had moments like these as a child. She stated that she couldn’t imagine going on long drives with her mother, listening to music and talking like friends. She wasn’t saying it to say “You should be grateful for what you have” because she has never been like that. She was just feeling wistful. This was the first time that I thought about the possibility that the way my parents treated and reacted to me was different from the way they knew their parents. It’s hard to imagine who I would have been if my parents were different or our relationship not been the way it was. Perhaps I would be the same person that I am today.

a family of four on a beach

However, would my life’s trajectory, and the path to peace and contentment with myself and my surroundings, have been more bumpy? There are many happy, successful adults who were raised by bad parents. You can also find unhappy, miserable adults with good parents. You can’t tell if someone is talking, and it’s hard to see. This is why I want to talk to you about it. Just like generational wealth is a hidden privilege, having good parents is also a kind of privilege. It’s not a privilege, in that those who have good parents shouldn’t feel they’ve been deprived of something. This could also be true for inheriting large trust funds. It’s important that every child has caretakers who love them and support them without condition. However, it’s still a privilege because it gives you a huge advantage in your life. Good parents are a benefit you can carry around, not like a large inheritance.

Our parents can make a difference in our lives. We choose our friends, partners and other important people in our lives. But, as imperfect as they are, I am their imperfect daughter. As a child, there were many highs and lows in my relationships with them. There was also plenty of fighting. We fight round robin style so that no one feels left behind, even though we are all under the same roof. They are not perfect people or make the right decisions all the time. Good parenting is more than a peaceful, easy relationship. So, what makes a good parent a good parent, then?

man in white crew neck t-shirt sitting beside woman in white crew neck t-shirt

According to psychotherapist Dr. Dana Dorfman says that it’s not about doing the right thing every time. In fact it’s not something that can be fully intellectualized at all – instead, she describes what good parenting might feel like to a child. She says that children are absorbing the feeling of being loved, appreciated, nurtured, supported, and soothed almost through their bodies. It creates a sense of security, which is the emotional equivalent to being wrapped in a blanket. It lasts. Even though we had our most difficult, bitterest fights, those where I, being a typical teenager, vowed to never speak to them again. It never occurred to me that they might withhold a fraction their affection if my rebellion continued. In contrast, conditional love offers affection and respect in return for “correct” behavior. This love is so dependent on external factors that it does not provide security. The pain and impact of conditional loves can be severe, Dorfman explains. She says that you might feel your true self isn’t lovable or acceptable and may even internalize it. People hide a lot of their true selves, but they need to express those parts. It is impossible to hide it for too long. This increases their chances of experiencing anxiety, depression, and other symptoms. Harry Harlow, a psychologist who discovered that baby rhesus monkeys are more interested in affection and comfort than food, was one of the most important behavioral science breakthroughs of the 20th century.

Although it might seem obvious, Harlow’s research revealed that the dominant school of thought at the time was that too much affection was detrimental to child-rearing. It was believed that babies were attached to their mothers only because they received food from them, and not because they had needed comfort. Harlow’s experiments showed that baby monkeys preferred fake mothers with soft cloth coverings who offered food to those made from wire. This was a shift in parental affection.

grayscale photo of family's hands

Dorfman says, “We cannot underestimate the ability of parents to soothe the child.” Children who feel better and can rely on their parents for emotional regulation are not only helping them in that moment but also creating a foundation for self-soothe for later years. Dorfman says that a strong relationship requires a foundation of trust. This trust means that the parent will not only be physically present but also emotionally present and tuned in emotionally to their child. If the child is crying, it means that the parent is listening because that shows you care. When you speak up, it means you are heard. You are important. You are worthy of being addressed. ” Sometimes, even though they are generally good parents, they still tend to minimize their children’s emotions. Dorfman says, “We can dismiss children’s emotions simply because they seem childish. We have our adult ways of doing things and think we are more evolved.” It seems silly to us. However, to a child, what’s troubling them is a matter for heaven and earth. Parents should try to understand that. Dorfman says that minimization is the “premise for many difficulties people have as adults.”

I don’t recall my childhood memories of being punished and scolded. What I do remember is the times in my childhood when my parents dismissed my fears and frustrations as the undeveloped brain’s overreaction. My parents were good because they did not do this most of the times. They were patient with me or understood my thoughts. This is a sign of good parenting. Dorfman says that parents can be supportive and understanding of their child’s inner experiences. The parent can understand and appreciate the child as an individual. She continues, “We don’t all do it.” We don’t always do it. This is what I am most grateful for. My inner life has been respected by my parents. They have always been curious about me and my thoughts, regardless of whether they are similar or vastly different from theirs. I think that many people love their children, but it’s more of a feeling that .they .experience, not an action they perform that their .children .experience. This could also indicate that parents love their children as a concept but are not able to connect with them as individuals.

man in long sleeve shirt standing beside girl in pink tank top washing hands

My parents have made me feel like a fascinating conversationalist at the dinner table. They are interested in my opinions. Going to the movies with our family was our favorite activity. We also enjoyed discussing our thoughts afterwards. I can’t count the number of hours my mom has listened to me explain some TV show she’s never seen, yet she still always demonstrates interest and asks questions just based on the fact that I’m losing my mind over it. She is always curious about my hobbies and sometimes even asks me how my Animal Crossing character does. I don’t know. I’ve left my island. My parents made it clear to me that I should go where I wanted to study and apply for college when I was thinking about it. They were thrilled when I told them I wanted to study film. They were always happy to cheer me on as I became an adult, and they never made a judgement or indicated which type of adult they preferred. It’s a blessing that I don’t think I could imagine living without parental support. It’s life-changing.Whether you realize that your parents were amazing or terrible or somewhere in-between, there’s value in reflecting on your relationship with them. It is the first chance we have at human connection here on Earth.

You can still think about whether you had a happy, friendly connection with them as an adult. But, it’s worth considering if they made you feel nurtured and soothed growing up. This is not a simple exercise in gratitude or resentment. Introspection increases our ability to be aware of our emotions, which Dorfman says is crucial for good parenting. It can help us be happier adults and make us better parents. My mom claims that her parents raised five children and never noticed them as little people. This is partly because my grandparents were raised in a different age than I was when parent-child relationships were thought of. Dr. Dorfman believes it is generational. There is an evolution in parenting. “There is an evolution in parenting. While we cannot choose which inheritances we receive in life, we can look at what our parents have left us and make a decision about what we will pass on to the next generation.

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