Parenting skills don't necessarily come naturally

 
 

"I'll never do that to my kids!"

Was there a one of us who didn't utter those words, even if under our breath, at one time or the other during our childhood?

Confronted with an action or decision by our parents that seemed insensitive, unjust, or even cruel, we pledged to ourselves that, when we were parents, we'd sure be different.

Well, friends, it's our turn now. Ten, or 20, or 30 years later, we're on the other side of the parent/child equation. And, much to our surprise, it's a lot harder than we thought.

It seems this parenting business requires a whole lot of understanding, skill, patience and perseverance; more than a lot of us seem to have at times.

And, despite our childhood intentions to the contrary, we eventually find ourselves doing many of the same things our parents did.

Now, that's not all bad. One of the things we soon realize as parents is that much of what our own parents did often wasn't all that crazy after all. We may even feel more than a little grateful for some of the lessons about living our parents managed to teach us.

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On the other hand, we can become very discouraged if we recognize in ourselves some of the parenting patterns which we found objectionable in our parents.

We recognize we have been screaming at, or criticizing, or ignoring, or perhaps even beating our children just the way our parents did to us. And we experience that sinking, defeated feeling of "not me, too!"

Actually, we shouldn't be all that surprised. We learn how to be parents from our parents. And, though we try our hardest to build on their strengths and correct their weaknesses, chances are we will pick up a few of their failings and add some of our own.

The fact is, parenting is a particular set of skills grounded in our love and commitment to our children. And these skills need to be studied, learned, practiced, critiqued and revised, just like our behaviors in other areas. Our parental love and commitment is important, but it is not enough to ensure good parenting.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Now, I realize that's not necessarily a widely held belief. For a long time we have assumed that being a parent just came naturally. If we could have kids, we could be good parents.

But the more we study parenting, the more we realize it doesn't just come naturally, or easily.

"I'll never do that to my kids." When it comes right down to it, we probably will at one time or the other. But we do have the opportunity to learn from our mistakes, and do better the next time. Come to think of it, that may be the most important skill in being a parent.

• Dr. Ken Potts is on the staff of Samaracare Counseling Center in Naperville and Downers Grove. He is the author of "Mix Don't Blend, A Guide to Dating, Engagement and Remarriage With Children."

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