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Here’s What “Good Parenting” Actually Looks Like


One of the biggest stressors for new parents is also an invisible, insidious one—shame. Parents can come to terms with getting into a second-choice daycare, missing a night of bedtime reading, or an extra hour of screen time, but shame often comes on slowly and stays for too long. This shame is usually tied to the feeling of being judged. Whether real or imagined, feeling judged by other parents often causes feelings of insecurity, fear, and anger. Sometimes, these emotions might lead a parent to keep up appearances, keep up with parenting trends, or simply withdraw to avoid judgment. 

But the good news is that being a good parent doesn’t mean keeping up with anyone or anything and it doesn’t mean avoiding judgment at all costs. The truth is, people will always judge others and parents will judge good parenting just as often as they judge bad habits. So today we’d like to help you give yourself permission to take a long, deep breath and silence the voice of shame in your heart and mind. 

A good parent is someone who exhibits the following behaviors and qualities not perfectly but as often as he or she can:

1. A Good Parent: Loves Freely

There’s no limit to your love for your child, so be generous with showing that love. Don’t refrain from acting in loving ways to your child for fear of coddling them—little ones are new to this world and so happy to be here. Show them that you’re also happy and that will reinforce with them that they’re wanted, safe, and secure with you.

Loving your child can be as simple as giving them hugs, spending quality time with them, having family meals together, and listening to your child’s problems seriously.

Showing these acts of love can trigger the release of feel-good hormones such as oxytocin which can engender a deep sense of calm, emotional warmth, and contentment. These feelings help your child develop resilience and a stronger relationship with you​.

2. A Good Parent: Takes Care of Themself

You can’t pour out from an empty cup; so if you’re trying to be present for your child and be a balanced, healthy parent, you must invest in yourself. Parents struggling from exhaustion, parental burnout, or haven’t made time to care for their minds, bodies, and relationships are often more impatient and prone to fighting. 

For many parents, the burdens of life can feel overwhelming. We highly encourage you to figure out how to maintain personal health. This means investing in a healthy body, mind, and soul and investing in your core relationships. Find that path for you—it might mean taking 6 months to slowly transition to more meal planning to prepare healthier foods, a 1 mile walk around the neighborhood a few times a week, or being intentional about meditation and hobbies when the baby is sleeping. It can look like canceling plans with others to ensure you get more sleep, planning date night, or even going to counseling instead of spending money on new restaurants. Take your time and find habits that allow you to sustainably live the best version of yourself for you, your baby, and your wider family.

3. A Good Parent: Adapts Their Parenting To Fit The Child

You’re changing. Your child is changing. And it’s hard to keep up. But as much as possible, keep pace with your child's development since their needs and behaviors change as they age.

Your baby will make a number of development leaps even before their first birthday. Some milestones require more patience from you and at other times, your child is testing their boundaries and will require more discipline from you. The same intellectual leap that is making your pre-teen curious and inquisitive in the classroom is also making her argumentative at the dinner table. Different ages and stages require different responses and parenting styles from you so be flexible to attend to their needs.

Check out the CDC’s developmental milestones list to learn more about what you can expect at various ages so you’re best informed on how to nurture and care for them. You won’t always know how to best adapt to meet your baby where they are but great parenting doesn’t just lean on instinct but on knowledge as well. Follow the checklist, talk to your doctor about behaviors you notice, and talk to parents you trust to get their thoughts as well. Using this knowledge network will help you figure out where your child is developmentally and what they need from you to grow and flourish. 

If your child isn’t hitting developmental milestones or has a learning disorder, it’s important to know that as well so you can teach and care for them in ways that support their learning style and overall needs.

4. A Good Parent: Consistently Reinforces Hard And Soft Skills

Kids thrive in ongoing, positive reinforcement, so it’s important to teach them not only the “hard,” practical skills like cleaning up after themselves and feeding themselves, but good parents also make an intentional effort to instill good values into their child. Teach your kid the “soft” skills like empathy, kindness, gratitude, and politeness and teach it often. There will be stages of development marked by boundary testing and rebellion, so it’s critical that you’re consistent with teaching values.

“If you forget to teach them how to be good children and good people, they will be less likely to be happy and fulfilled, no matter what they achieve and how much they succeed.”

According to Judith Wright at Today’s Parent, “A baby needs 1,000 repetitions to learn a word; by the time he’s a toddler, he might need 50 repetitions; and when he’s in kindergarten, he may need only a few repetitions to master it because the brain connections have been laid out.” This kind of repetition and reinforcement is also key for instilling good values and behaviors. You don’t need to say the same thing 1,000 times, but it’s helpful for your baby to see you model a skill multiple times in various ways.

5. A Good Parent: Respects Their Child

Children repeat what they hear and mimic what they see; if they’re treated with respect, they’ll grow to be respectful people. Children are often treated as “lesser than” and aren’t shown a lot of respect because they’re seen as undeserving of it being so young and underdeveloped. Whether this is conscious or not, it’s important for parents to foster a healthy sense of self and respectfulness in their children so they grow up confident, gracious, and kind to others.

There are a few key spheres of respect that good parents show their children:

6. A Good Parent: Manages Their Kid’s Intake

Intake refers to anything that your child consumes; it covers everything from TV shows and songs your child is exposed to, to foods, drinks, and language.

According to Their World, “There’s no more important time in a child’s life than the first 1000 days – from birth to age three. Their brains are developing faster than at any other time. In fact, by age five a child’s brain is 90% developed.” In their earliest years, children are like sponges, absorbing information and actively making sense of it.

Additionally, the National Institute for Health reports that “Nutrition plays an important role in pregnancy and infancy as these are the critical periods of brain formation that will serve as a foundation for the development of cognitive, motor and socio-emotional skills throughout life.”

In short, what your child hears, sees, eats, and drinks is what actively affects their development. Every meal may not be balanced and every song they hear may not be educational, however, it’s important to steer their intake toward things that will boost their growth physically, mentally, and emotionally. As much as possible, create an environment around them that shapes them into a healthy, well-rounded person that has the nutrition needed to help them grow well and strong.

7. A Good Parent: Avoids Mean-Spiritedness

Mean-spiritedness includes being mean, spiteful, and unkind toward your child but this also expands to include other members of your household since your kid will observe and internalize how you treat others around you. Will you yell on occasion? Maybe. Forgive yourself for that. Will you snap at them or your partner? Maybe. Forgive yourself for that. Will you stub your toe and curse? Maybe. Forgive yourself for that. The goal for a good parent isn’t to be perfect, but intentional about repeating healthy behaviors and cutting out unhelpful ones. So avoid behaviors you don’t want your child to replicate. When you mess up, apologize to your little one and let them know how you should’ve acted so they register your remorse.

8. A Good Parent: Disciplines Lovingly And Consistently

A good goal for disciplining children is to empower them to change their behavior, not shame them or try to control them. In fact, discipline is a healthy tool to help build up self-regulation skills, not conform to set rules or behave out of fear. But it doesn’t work if you’re not consistent. 

There are many ways you can exert discipline—whatever you decide, we encourage you to correct your kids with the same loving approach you do when you praise them for doing well. Yes, when you discipline, your tone and voice may change, but you can still speak to them with respect, kindness, and care. You can hug them after discipline to remind them that you love them and apologize if you were too harsh at first. But as much as you can, be consistent to reinforce the lesson and help them learn well.

9. A Good Parent: Invests In Their Child’s Future

Parenting can feel very emotional and physically taxing early on, but beyond the sprint of the early years, there’s a marathon that every parent must run—helping their children see a good future. This can look like many things. For the wealthy, trust funds are a great investment in their children’s financial future, but long-term planning can take many different forms such as:

We encourage you to do whatever you can today to help your kids in the future.

10. A Good Parent: Vets Babysitters, Sleepover Parents, Playdates

Not every adult is a safe haven for your child, so it’s important to know as much as you can about new adults in your and your kids' lives. Often, parents report not suspecting that an adult was inappropriate with their child and with good reason—predators are excellent at hiding their true motives. However, as much as you can control, have a clear knowledge about who you and your children are engaging with. Who are your child's friends? What are the parents of the child like? Who will your child encounter when they play at the friend's house and are there guns in the home? For your child’s safety, be sure you know the answers to these questions and also where they are at all times. Perfect parents don’t exist, so we encourage you to defeat the myth of a perfect parent in your mind. There are only everyday people trying their absolute best to raise good humans and love them well. If you’re nervous that you’re not doing enough for your child, I assure you—you are exactly the right person to start them on the journey of life and you are exactly where you need to be. Persist.

Written by:
Davina Adcock

Davina is a native of Grenada and a graduate of The University of Texas at Austin. She's a content specialist with a passion for empowering women to thrive and reach their full potential. In her free time, Davina is probably painting, reading, or baking something unnecessarily sweet.

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