(without losing your heart)

Defining Good Parenting

In starting this blog, I stressed priorities. I don’t really feel I have a right to say what is good parenting and what is not, but of course that is a lie in so many ways. I have a lot of strong opinions about parenting. I refer to research because of the illusion that it is objective—unbiased—but I know that it is impossible for research to be completely objective. Yet it gives us a place to start a conversation, to consider what the researcher saw as a priority—a way to test some of our beliefs. I am inadequately exploring the bias in the research itself—maybe I’ll get to that—but let’s start with the bias in the questions we ask.

I was just reading about the benefits of diverse schools here: How Socioeconomic Diversity In Schools Helps All Students. One of the few things that is clear from research—if you examine grades and standardized test scores—is that children from impoverished homes are less likely to do well in school than middle-class children. People tend to think that success in school is objectively a good thing, but there are even reasons to doubt that (another thing to come back to). There is a lot to consider in this clear fact, and there have been numerous “efforts” to change this (though politicians seem quite unwilling to consider the possibility that poverty itself is the problem). If you follow the link within the above article, you will find another article that discusses the benefits of economically diverse schools for middle-class children, at least if you want your kids to be “successful” in a diverse world because you believe that embracing diversity will improve your child’s chances of success. I believe in diverse schools—so much that I put my children into a private school with one of its missions being to have an ethnically and economically diverse student body—but this is because of a belief in social justice and a need to struggle for a better world. In all honesty, I have no idea how to help my children succeed in the world at this point. I keep half-joking with them that perhaps outdoor survival training would be best, and when I talk about careers with my students, I sadly have to tell them that there are no guarantees and that preparing for flexibility is the best advice I can offer. If I dwell on this too much, I will have an anxiety attack.

So what does it mean to be a good parent? Perhaps I am writing this primarily to figure it out a little more for myself. I wanted to have true co-parenting for my children so that they would experience a more gender neutral world and the support of two committed parents. Sadly, I failed to make this happen because it takes two committed parents. I thought I was doing what was best for my children by working to keep their father as involved as possible—because children, I believe, are best off with as much adult support as possible—but I now believe that they would have been better off without him. I believed in helping my children excel in academic skills, allowing my husband to pressure me into emphasizing academics more than I was comfortable with, and my child can do amazingly well on standardized tests but is too anxious to leave the house most days. I made a lot of choices that I wish I could take back.

Fighting for a better world for me is a value that is intertwined with being a good parent. In some ways, having children once seemed like one way to improve the world. Now I begin to think that the greatest challenge as a parent might be to instill hope in our children—hope that the world can be better, hope that they can have a meaningful life, hope for a future worth living. Perhaps the greatest challenge as a parent is helping our children want to live. There is a lot of research that considers how poverty impacts children (for example here), and the role early experience plays in developing neural networks is an adequate explanation, but one that only addresses the biological aspects of the mind. A more artistic, perhaps meaningful, explanation is that children is desperate situations never develop the hope they need to thrive. Helping all our children develop hope is a battle that must take place on two planes: in our parenting and in how we relate to the world around us.




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