All parents struggle with HOW to be good parents. As I am sure you have heard many say repeatedly, children don’t come with instruction manuals. But single parents have a larger challenge in that they have to be the only parent for their child. This pressure often leads to single parents believing they must be a super-hero in order to do the job correctly. This line of thinking can lead to single parents who believe they must be infallible parents or single parents who believe that they are always fallible in their parenting.
Infallible parents believe that they must always be right. This does not necessarily mean that they believe that they ARE always right, just that they have the expectation of themselves that they should always be right. With that belief in mind, when they realize that they are not right in any particular situation, the stress is doubled. Often the idea that they must be infallible comes from exceptionally high expectations that were set for them by their own parents. Sometimes this drive to be infallible comes from their own personality as a perfectionist. Often the need to be infallible comes from the misplaced idea that they must be perfect in order to be loved. For many, they have been rejected at some time in their lives under the guise of some type of flaw within themselves. It is often hard for these parents to admit when they are wrong, thus they rarely apologize. They keep relationships – even those with their children – at arm’s length because it is easier to promote an infallible façade if you don’t allow anyone to get too close. How does this affect their children? Children of parents who believe they must be infallible often feel that they, too, must be infallible. The pressure to succeed and to excel is intense. Every mistake becomes a monumental downfall. It is well-known that children learn best when they learn by example. A parent who doesn’t appear to be human - one that doesn’t admit their faults or apologize - is a tough example to emulate. We all know that apologies go a long way in mending fences; one that cannot apologize often creates rifts that are never repaired. Kept at a distance from their parents, critical communication skills in children of infallible parents go undeveloped. Perhaps most importantly, children raised by infallible parents sometimes lean toward one extreme or the other when it comes to relationships. They often either create their own barriers to hold people at a distance or they will go to the extreme in allowing closeness of relationships.
At the other end of the spectrum are parents who believe they are always-fallible. These parents do everything wrong – at least they believe they do. Just as no one can always be right, nor can one always be wrong. These parents are often depressed – and rightfully so – because they believe they are forever trapped in a failing status in life. They are sure that their children would have been better off in any home except theirs. They may also be very hard on their children, pushing unrealistic expectations to keep their children from becoming like themselves. However, they may also be over-accommodating to their children in an effort to make up for their own inadequacies as their parent. Their negative outlook spills over into the home and creates a hostile environment for young children and teens, alike. This type of hostility does not usually show itself in the form of physical abuse, but sometimes verbal abuse is an issue, when the parent has a fear that they must spur their children not to become the failure that they see within themselves. How does all this affect their children? Children of always-fallible parents will sometimes be caught in the trap of trying to make their parents feel better. Children grow up with the notion that their parents are the greatest. It is only over time and with experience that this concept with strengthen or change. Young children will often try to “cheer up” their parents when they are depressed and will sometimes even point out to their parents all the positive qualities they see – or hope to see – in them. It is not the job of the child to parent the parent, but this sometimes happens with the always-fallible parent. Depression is a heavy burden for the one who suffers with it and often a heavier burden for their loved ones. Young children and even teens do not realize that there is nothing they can do to aid their parent with this personal issue. They often believe that if they behave better, get better grades, help out more around the house, etc., then their parent will feel better. This simply is not the case. Even worse is when the depressed state leads to the depression of the child(ren). Additionally, if the child hears negative concepts from the parent on a repeated basis, they will soon come to believe that those same negative traits lie within themselves.
How can we avoid being infallible or always-fallible parents? What are some tips for those parents who already struggle with one of these concepts? How can we reverse the “damage” already done to our children by such mindsets and help them find a healthier view of themselves? Over the next two weeks I will be post an article for each of these types of parents, along with tips to reverse the trends for those of us who see ourselves as one of these types, as well as, ideas for helping your children not develop the same views of themselves. I hope that this exploration will help some of you find a better way to parent.