Wendy’s mother looks the other way when little Wendy first terrorises your cat and then breaks a vase. In the supermarket Gwen’s mother gives her a slab of chocolate and a new doll just to avoid a tantrum.
Brandon’s father promises him a packet of chips, if he goes to bed. The Stewards throw a R3000 birthday with ponies, a jumping castle and a clown for Raphael – when he turns one!
You see this behaviour and those brats, and know for sure that you will not do the same when you have children of your own. Inevitably you do - have children, look away, give ice creams in the supermarket and bribe your kids to bed - while other (as yet) childless persons make false promises to themselves as they are observing you.
In search of ways to deal with your own inexplicable behaviour – as well as other powerful emotions such as extreme anger, frustration and feelings of guilt, you turn to literature or advice from others. But there are so many “ideal companions for the new or inexperienced parent” and family and friends sending you on different routes, that trying to make sense becomes even more overwhelming.
Fortunately, most people instinctively know how to raise their children. And, while no one will ever become a perfect parent, every-one can strive towards becoming a good parent.
Dr. Johnny Waite, lecturer in clinical child psychology at the University of Stellenbosch said to the women’s magazine Sarie, all it takes to be an ideal parent is to:
care for your children;
provide for them and give them security;
be honest with them;
give them attention and be interested in them;
be capable of applying behavioural control and discipline;
reach success with regards to their education.
While this may sound like a mouth-full, most parents more or less succeed in doing this. University of Pretoria (UP) psychologist Dr Ailke Botha also believes in a few fundamentals. It is important to listen to your children, be attuned to their needs, and have realistic expectations. It is also necessary to be informed about the physical and expected emotional development stages of a child, so that you can identify real problems and intervene if necessary. Most people are not adequately informed about these phases.
The most important requirement for healthy parenting, however, is to know exactly what you want to achieve, Botha says. If your aim is to raise a happy and well-adapted child with the ability to reach her/his full potential, this aim will provide the direction.
She points out a major problem today, parents do not spend enough time with their children. This turns out to be the main problem in most of the cases UP’s Centre for Child and Adult Guidance deal with. “Fifteen minutes a day can make all the difference,” she says.
However, whether we will be able to continue providing these basics in a society that is going to look radically different in a few years, remains to be seen. HIV/Aids is expected to cripple established family care patterns. An enormous number of orphans will turn older people into primary caregivers, at the same time that it deprives them of support from their children.
In these circumstances, who is going to care and provide, pay attention, listen and lead?